Health Officials Ask Gay Men Traveling to New York for Sex to Get Vaccinated for Meningitis

Categories: Health

Terabass via Wikimedia
That's a lot of germs
If you are a gay man and making plans to ring in 2013 in New York City, be sure to get your shots before you go.

Health officials are asking homosexual men to play it safe and get vaccinated for meningitis before traveling to New York, where there's been a recent outbreak of the bacterial infection among gay men.

On Nov. 29, after noting an increase in cases of meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene expanded its recommendations to vaccinate men who have sex with men residing in NYC.

Over the past year, 12 cases of meningococcal disease were identified among men who have sex with men (MSM) in NYC, including three new cases in the past six weeks, prompting health officials in New York City to recommend meningococcal vaccine for men who have had, or will have, intimate contact with men they met through websites, apps, or at a bar or party.

And now that recommendation has gone bicoastal. Tomas Aragon, health officer for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said he really wants S.F. men to follow New York City's advice so they, too, can be healthy. Earlier this week, the DPH distributed a health advisory informing San Francisco clinicians of these new recommendations.

"MSM planning travel to NYC who anticipate having close or intimate contact with MSM in New York City, and MSM who have recently traveled to New York City and had close or intimate contact with MSM there, should be aware of the New York City meningococcal disease outbreak and ought to discuss vaccination with their doctor," Aragon said.

That's not to say you should be alarmed and stay indoors. There has been no recent outbreak of meningococcal disease in San Francisco, officials noted.

Meningococcal disease is a severe infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis by infecting the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause an infection of the blood. Even if diagnosed early and treated with antibiotics, it can still sometimes result in death, permanent brain damage, hearing loss, or kidney failure.

The disease is transmitted by contact with spit, phlegm, mucus, or other fluids from the nose or mouth of someone who has the disease. Typically this occurs from kissing or sexual contact, sneezing or coughing, living in a crowded space together, or sharing drinks, cigarettes or eating utensils with someone who is already infected.

Typically, the meningococcal vaccination is recommended for students entering middle school and high school, for college students living in dormitories, for military recruits, and for people with certain medical conditions like a damaged or missing spleen. It is also recommended for persons traveling to places with ongoing outbreaks of meningococcal disease, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, and now New York.

Most adults gain protection from meningococcal disease with a single injection of the meningitis vaccine. Some adults, including those with HIV or other causes of weakened immune function, are recommended to receive a total of two injections of the vaccine spaced 2 months apart, in order to achieve protection. According to the CDC, vaccination is 80 to 90 percent effective in preventing meningococcal disease.

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