All six men in the area – including one fatality – who have contracted rare form of disease are gay or bisexual as city health officials worry about outbreak
As Chicago kicked off its annual pride week on Saturday with a street festival and parade that was expected to draw more than 1 million people, city and national health officials were asking that all gay and bisexual men be vaccinated against a rare and growing outbreak of meningitis.
Since early June, six men in the Chicago area have been found to have meningitis. By Thursday there had been one fatality, according to Chicago department of public health commissioner Dr Julie Morita.
A seventh person was thought to have meningitis, pending confirmation from test results.
All confirmed cases involved gay and bisexual men, leading the city health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand recommendations for meningitis vaccinations to include all gay and bisexual men in Chicago.
Previously, these bodies primarily recommended that HIV-positive men be vaccinated. But not all the confirmed cases involve HIV-positive men.
City officials and local organizations planned on using the weekend’s pride festivities to make sure all such men have access to the vaccine.
“In coordination with the Chicago department of public health, several [organizations] will be offering free meningitis vaccinations both during PrideFest and until the city deems otherwise,” Christopher Barrett Politan, executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance, which organizes pride festivities, told the Guardian.
“Additionally, we will have signage throughout the festival to inform patrons of the risks associated with meningitis and the importance of getting vaccinated.”
Meningitis can be passed through kissing or sharing a drink.
“I think as always, there’s reasons to use good judgment about how much contact you have with people you do not know,” Morita said. “You don’t know what diseases [people] are carrying.
“So not only does this relate to meningitis, but it’s also related to other diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea or even the common cold.”
Symptoms of meningitis can begin appearing within 2-10 days of exposure. They include stiff neck, fever, headaches, vomiting, confusion and sensitivity to light. Untreated, it can result in death; even if caught early, meningitis can cause hearing loss and brain damage.
Vaccinations being supplied during pride festivities take 10-14 days to take effect, Morita said, so men who received the shot could still be at risk while at pride festivities.
In 2013, three gay men died from meningitis in Chicago. The city said it was working to not repeat that experience.
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