Meningitis outbreak in Chicago – get yourself vaccinated!

National health authorities are encouraging gay and bisexual men to come out and get vaccinated against meningitis
which has seen an unexpected outbreak in Chicago. The City of Milwaukee Health Department has also reported a confirmed case of bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease) in an adult Milwaukee resident.

Six area men have been diagnosed with meningitis since early June, five in Chicago and one in DuPage County, according to Dr. Julie Morita, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner. One of those men has died and lab results are pending for a seventh person also thought to be stricken with the disease, Morita said.

All of those afflicted were men who sleep with other men, prompting the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand their recommendations for the meningitis vaccine to include all gay and bisexual men. In particular, the vaccine is recommended for HIV-positive men who have sex with other men, men having anonymous sex with other men, and men using ‘hook-up’ apps to find sexual partners, public health officials said. African-American men have been disproportionately affected by this current outbreak.

“Meningitis is a serious disease, but there is a safe and effective vaccine available,” Morita said in a statement. “We are working with our partners to help stop the spread of disease, and we encourage anyone who is at risk to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated.”

What exactly is meningitis?

It’s an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges.The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs. It can be life-threatening because of the inflammation’s proximity to the brain and spinal cord; therefore, the condition is classified as a medical emergency.

Symptoms include rapid onset of a fever, headache and stiff neck. Other symptoms can include vomiting, rash, and confusion. Meningococcal disease can result in serious health consequences that require immediate medical attention.

The disease spreads through the sharing of saliva and spit, such as in kissing or sexual contact; or by sharing drinks, cigarettes, marijuana or other smoking devices. Those diagnosed with the illness are treated with antibiotics.

“This disease can be very serious. The onset of symptoms is very quick. It’s very important to get medical treatment,” Paul Biedrzycki with the Milwaukee Health Department said.

“The constellation of symptoms that are really indicative of meningococcal disease are sudden onset of fever, stiffness of the neck and various joints, sometimes there is severe headaches, disorientation, a sensitivity to light, and a very characteristic red purple rash that typically appears in the trunk or the legs of the individual,” Biedrzycki said.

Getting medical treatment right away is very important.

“It has a high case fatality rate. 10 to 20 percent of individuals if not treated early will die from this disease,” Biedrzycki said.

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