Meningitis Vaccine - Los Angeles LGBT Center

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Los Angeles LGBT Center Partners with LA County to Encourage Gay/Bisexual Men and Transgender People to Get Meningitis Vaccine

Gay/bisexual men and transgender people living in Los Angeles County should get vaccinated for invasive meningococcal disease (IMD). IMD is potentially deadly and county health officials say that gay/bisexual men represent a disproportionate number of the 17 cases reported this year.

The Center is providing free vaccinations, by appointment only, at its McDonald/Wright Building at 1625 N. Schrader Blvd in Hollywood. Clients who have a regularly scheduled appointment with their primary care physician at the Center, or who are getting an HIV test at the McDonald/Wright Building, will be offered the vaccine during their visit. To schedule a vaccination appointment, call 323-993-7500.

Additional sites offering the vaccine are listed on the county health department’s website at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/ip/Docs/meningitisclinics.pdf.

How do I know if I’m at risk of infection?

Gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles appear to be part of a higher risk group. But to estimate your personal risk, it’s important to understand more about the bacterium and how it’s spread.

Not all strains of the family of bacteria that causes IMD are dangerous, but even those strains that are dangerous may not cause disease in everyone. In fact, some people can carry either the bad or harmless strains in their nose and throat for prolonged periods with no symptoms at all. So the fact that someone doesn’t have symptoms, doesn’t mean they can’t spread it.

Of course, the more people who carry the organism, the greater the likelihood it will spread to others and infect susceptible individuals. This is also the reasoning behind the health department’s statement that those who seek partners through mobile phone apps are at increased risk. Studies show that individuals who use these apps generally have more sexual partners, so are more likely to have infections they can spread to their new partners. But technically, the bacteria that causes IMD isn’t a sexually transmitted infection.

These bacteria are spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, sharing drink containers, cigarettes, marijuana joints, eating utensils or toothbrushes. So these are places like college dormitories, various residential facilities, or other spaces where many people congregate in close quarters for prolonged periods. This could also include large dance parties where people are sharing water bottles.

To put it bluntly, if you’re swapping spit with multiple people, you’re at increased risk. The more people with whom you share oral fluids the more likely it is that you will be exposed if any of those people have the bacteria in their nose or throat.

A person may also be at increased risk because they’re very young, they cannot produce antibodies to kill the infections, or because they’ve had their spleen removed, and probably—as we are learning—HIV infection.

Then there are non-specific things like exposure to cigarette and marijuana smoke, or even having a cold, any of which can affect the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. So, if a susceptible person is exposed to one of the bad strains, they may become sick. However, there are always cases of IMD where no apparent increased susceptibility is found.

What are symptoms of IMD?

Symptoms of meningitis may include: high fever, stiff neck, altered mental status, skin rash, severe headache, low blood pressure, aversion to bright lights, and generalized muscle pains. Symptoms usually occur within 5 days of the exposure, but may occur up to 10 days after exposure. If the infection is only in the bloodstream there may not be meningitis symptoms but only high fever and a blotchy dark skin rash. If pneumonia is present there would be high fever and cough.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you believe you’ve been exposed, seek treatment immediately. Go to an emergency room if you have symptoms, including fever, severe headache and stiff neck, as well as nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and altered mental state.

Meningitis is treatable with antibiotics if it’s caught early. So know the signs and symptoms, and be aware.

Are there side effects to the vaccine?

The vaccine is very well tolerated. Within 7 days of vaccination:

50-60% report pain at site of injection, while 10-17% report redness or swelling at site.
35-40% report headache with 10% having it be bothersome enough to interfere with usual activity
20-35% report malaise or fatigue with 5-8% indicating this interfered with usual activity
15-20% reported joint pain but only 4% found it interfered with activity
10-15% reported diarrhea but only 2-3% found it interfered with activity

Learn more about meningitis by visiting: www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html


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