Multnomah Health Dept Calms Gay Men's Fears Around Meningitis

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bacterial meningitis
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

The Multnomah County Health Department issued a "Health Notice to Gay and Bisexual Men" in Portland yesterday, assuaging the community's fears around bacterial meningitis. The notice, signed by STD/HIV/HCV Program Manager Kim Toevs and Health Officer Justin Denny, comes after many local gay and bisexual men became concerned by bacterial meningitis outbreaks in New York and Los Angeles. To summarize the notice in one sentence: there is no indication that there is any increased risk of bacterial meningitis for gay men in Portland and people should not seek vaccination against bacterial meningitis unless directed to do so by their healthcare provider. Here's the full text of the letter, provided to PQ by the Health Department: HEALTH NOTICE TO GAY AND BISEXUAL MEN 4/17/2013 Current community concerns about bacterial meningitis: We have received questions from community members about cases of bacterial meningitis among gay men in New York City, a recent case in a gay man from West Hollywood, and whether Portland area men are at risk. The case in West Hollywood in still under investigation by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. Reports as of April 15th do not yet identify a connection between the case and the New York outbreak, or where the patient was exposed. While one organization there is distributing vaccine to community members, the LA public health department there has not advised a change in vaccine practice. About the disease: Meningococcal meningitis disease is a rare infection of the lining of the brain and the spinal cord. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or death. Many people can carry meningococcal bacteria in their nose and throat and not be sick. The bacteria can be spread by very close exposure to sneezing and coughing or direct contact with saliva (spit) or nose mucus (snot). Disease symptoms may include: fever, stiff neck, altered mental status, rash, severe headache, low blood pressure, and generalized muscle pains. The symptoms of bacterial meningitis can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within 3-7 days after exposure. Local risk in Portland: Meningitis is one of many diseases reportable to public health, so that the health department can recognize and prevent outbreaks. There has been no change in disease pattern in the Portland area that would suggest increased risk to gay men. Vaccination: Routine vaccination isn’t recommended for adults over 21. The national Centers for Disease Control hasn’t changed its vaccination recommendations for gay men nationally, although New York City has been advising vaccination to some subsets of gay men in response to the outbreak there. Oregon and Multnomah County public health departments are not changing vaccination recommendations. However, we understand that national news about this serious disease can evoke a high level of concern in some individuals. We recommend that individuals considering immunization consult their personal health care provider, including those living with HIV. MCHD’s Community Immunization Prgm webpage at has information about vaccine access and fees as well. Please see a health care provider if: Persons who have direct contact with the saliva or nose mucus of a person known to be infected with meningococcal meningitis should immediately contact their healthcare provider to receive appropriate antibiotic treatment. For more information see the webpage below or call your health care provider: Here’s to all our health! What's your response to the Health Department's notice, readers? Can you breathe a little easier now? Let us know in the comments! BlogTail_NickMattos