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Meningitis vaccines urged before NYC Pride events

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By Nadia Kounang

While meningitis has reached an all-time low in the United States, an op-ed in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine highlights cases of a deadly meningitis strain among men who have sex with men.

Cities including New York, Toronto, and San Francisco have launched public awareness campaigns to promote vaccination, but the authors also call on physicians to assess the risk to their patients and discuss the strain.

Since August 2010, 22 cases have been reported in New York City among men who have sex with men. More than half of those were already HIV positive. Seven men died. In fact, in New York City last year, men who have sex with men were 50 times more likely than the general population to be infected with the virus, according to city health officials.

Meningitis can be spread by close contact such as kissing or sharing cigarettes. Early symptoms of infection can include flu-like symptoms, sepsis and rash. Death is common within 24 hours of first exhibiting symptoms.

And the disease isn't limited to New York. Four cases have also been reported in Los Angeles since December, officials said.

Public health officials are already sounding the alarm. In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends that all men who have sex with men be vaccinated against the deadly virus, as it can be spread via intimate contact. In New York state, insurers are mandated to cover the vaccine.

Since last October, the department has vaccinated more than 11,000 people and no new cases have been reported since February.

With upcoming Gay Pride festivities slated for the end of the month, health departments in other cities are advising those traveling to New York for the events be vaccinated. It's not the first time events have been targeted, as mass gatherings have been associated with outbreaks in the past. In fact, all those making pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the annual Hajj are also required to be vaccinated.

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