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DC Health Clinic Now Recommending Meningitis Vaccination for Some Gay and Bi Men

by John Riley
Monday Apr 29, 2013
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Whitman-Walker Health, the local Washington, D.C. nonprofit community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS and LGBT-sensitive care, is advising self-identified gay and bisexual men, as well as any men who otherwise have sex with men (MSM), who meet certain criteria to get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, which has resulted in deaths among gay men in New York City and Los Angeles.

Whitman-Walker posted a notice on its website Tuesday advising men planning to travel to New York to consider getting vaccinated, but stressed there was no cause for concern, in accordance with guidelines that had been set by the New York Department of Health and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).

But on Friday Whitman-Walker announced an update, advising men who have had intimate contact with partners met through social websites such as Manhunt or Adam4Adam, digital applications like Grindr and Scruff, or at bars or parties since Sept. 1, 2012 - to get vaccinated, regardless of whether they have traveled or have plans to travel to New York.

According to WWH spokesman Chip Lewis, Whitman-Walker patients can request the vaccine from their individual health providers. Others should contact their own health providers for guidance and vaccinations.

A spokeswoman from the D.C. Department of Health (DOH) said that the department has not issued a warning regarding any outbreak in the District, but is advising people to consult their physicians regarding the vaccine. She forwarded a statement from Dr. Saul Levin, interim director of DOH, providing guidance for those concerned.

"The District of Columbia Department of Health closely monitors meningitis cases in the District," Levin said in the statement. "While we have not seen an increase from meningitis, as a public health official and physician, I strongly recommend people living with HIV or those that travel to the New York area frequently consult with their physician regarding a meningitis vaccination. If you develop a headache, fever or a stiff neck, please seek medical attention immediately."

Meningitis is transmitted through exposure to an infected person’s oral fluids, whether through kissing, coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils or drinking glasses. As The Atlantic’s health editor James Hamblin noted about meningitis, there is nothing about being gay that makes one more or less prone to the disease and likened it to the flu in they way it is transmitted.

Symptoms of meningitis include sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck, and are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, and confusion, and usually develop within three to seven days after exposure. Meningitis, if caught early, may be successfully treated with antibiotics.

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