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As death threatens gay men, LGBT communities fight meningitis outbreak in Brooklyn

Red markers show the neighborhoods in Brooklyn with the highest meningitis rate among men who have sex with men. Google Maps

10 neighborhoods hardest hit

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A coalition of LGBT city representatives are ramping up a campaign about a deadly meningitis outbreak found among men who have sex with other men, with a special focus on Brooklyn.

The New York City Depart of Health said that cases of this often-deadly infection of the brain lining are popping up in Brooklyn more than any other borough. Symptoms include fever and chills, mental status changes, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, severe headache, and stiff neck. One third of the afflicted have died, a higher rate than typical meningitis, which kills roughly one out of five.

The hardest hit neighborhoods in Brooklyn are Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Downtown, DUMBO, East New York, Prospect Heights and Williamsburg.

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn said the coalition has taken several steps to stay ahead of the disease, including holding informational meetings across the city, with extra sessions in Brooklyn.

According to DOH, there have been 22 reported cases – seven fatal – since 2010. Ten of the cases occurred in Brooklyn. Health officials have expressed concern that the disease is in danger of spreading further and are urging those most at risk to get vaccinated immediately.

While most men who have sex with other men consider themselves to be gay, some do not, so DOH labels them MSM (Men who have Sex with Men).

DOH says those most likely to catch the disease are HIV positive MSM; and men who often have intimate contact with other men they’ve met online, through an app, or at a bar or party.

“Meningitis symptoms usually come on quickly, and the disease can be fatal if not treated right away,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement. “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.”

Quinn said the group had worked with DOH and the organizers of LGBT Pride festivities, and have asked the State Department of Financial Services to inform insurers that health insurance plans must cover meningitis immunizations.

The coalition also sent a letter urging the managers of a popular gay online dating website to cooperate with DOH outreach efforts, as they previously had not. The coalition says it will work with non-profit organizations to hold vaccination days with volunteer physicians and nurses.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (Upper West Side), the first openly gay man elected to the New York State Assembly, said in a statement, “As we work to spread the word to our community and prevent a major outbreak of the disease, I would like to encourage individuals to get immunized and do their part in this important effort.”

To find a location to get a vaccine, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/health or council.nyc.gov. The vaccination wears off after five years and needs to be reapplied.

Other representatives joining this effort include:

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Midtown West, Times Square, East and West Village), Assembly Member Deborah Glick (West Village, Lower Manhattan), Assembly Member Micah Kellner (Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island), Assembly Member Matthew Titone (north Staten Island), Council Member Daniel Dromm (Jackson Heights), Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (western Queens) and Council Member Rosie Mendez (Lower East Side, East Village, Gramercy Park).

May 17, 2013 - 7:17pm


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