March 6, 2013 – The Health Department issued new recommendations today for vaccinating against invasive meningococcal disease – commonly known as meningitis – after an increase in cases. Vaccinations are now advised for men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (“App”), or at a bar or party.
Four new cases of meningitis among men who have sex with men have been reported since the beginning of January, bringing the total to 17 cases since 2012. There have been 22 reported cases – including seven fatal cases – since 2010.
“Meningitis symptoms usually come on quickly, and the disease can be fatal if not treated right away,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “Vaccination is the best defense. I urge all men who meet these criteria – regardless of whether they identify as gay – to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late.”
“The City Council is working with the Health Department to make sure that New Yorkers know how to protect themselves from invasive meningococcal disease,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “While the rise in cases of the disease commonly known as meningitis is concerning, particularly for men who are HIV-positive or who have sex with men, vaccines and treatments are available. The City is also offering information and resources on the web and through 311. The Council will work to ensure that the public is educated about this disease and the increased risk so that New Yorkers are armed with the information they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
“Meningitis is a serious health issue and those in at-risk communities need to take every possible precaution for their own protection and the protection of their peers,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “I strongly recommend all men who have intimate contact with other men get vaccinated. This disease is both potentially fatal and extremely contagious, so increasing the public’s awareness to this growing issue and encouraging vaccination are of the utmost importance.”
The Health Department also continues to recommend vaccinations for all HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Individuals who are not sure if they meet the criteria are advised to discuss their need for vaccination with their health care providers.
Vaccination prevents, but does not treat, current infection. Common symptoms of meningitis are: high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash that develop rapidly upon onset. Symptoms may occur two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days. Meningitis can be fatal if not treated promptly. People who experience these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.
People should first ask their health care providers if they have the vaccine. For those who cannot obtain the vaccine from their health care providers, Health Department clinics can administer the vaccine. Locations are listed at the Health Department’s Site Locator.
The recent meningitis cases have affected men throughout the five boroughs. Elected officials throughout the City are encouraging people to get vaccinated.
Council Member Carmen Arroyo:
“Meningitis is a serious disease and the recent increase in cases raises great concern. However, by equipping the public with information on vaccination, early detection and treatment, we can contain the spread of this serious disease. We will work with my colleagues and the Department of Health to proactively engage New Yorkers on staying healthy with prevention and early detection and treatment,” said Health Committee Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo.
Council Member Julissa Ferreras:
“It is very distressing to learn that one of the reported meningitis cases was in my district,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “As a member of the Health Committee, I strongly urge all New Yorkers to heed the advice of the Department of Health and consult with their physicians to discuss their need for vaccination. Receiving the proper tools towards educating yourself may not only help ensure a healthier life for yourself, but the lives of others you may come into contact with as well.”
Council Member Letitia James:
“I commend the Health Department for their work in bringing this health concern to the attention of the public and especially to MSM at risk,” said Council Member Letitia James. “It is imperative that men who have sex with men – and specifically those who are HIV-positive and at risk of co-infection – receive meningitis vaccinations to protect both themselves and their future partners.”
Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito:
“These increasing numbers of new meningitis cases are cause for concern, especially when so many cases have been fatal,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I encourage all New Yorkers who are at greatest risk of contracting meningitis to take precautions by getting vaccinated.”
Council Member Albert Vann:
“The health of our community depends on the health of each member and group within it,” said Council Member Albert Vann. “Men who have sex with men are valuable members of our community and should take steps to protect themselves so that that they are able to contribute to our community’s well-being. That means responding to new risks, such as the current meningitis cases, and consistently using condoms and safe sex practices during high-risk sexual encounters. I hope that all community members will spread word of this risk and of the meningitis vaccine’s availability to avoid unnecessary loss of life.”
To find a location to get a vaccine, call 311. For more information, search “meningitis” at nyc.gov.