Deadly Meningitis Has Spread To All Five New York City Boroughs

ABC News reports that a recent outbreak of deadly bacterial meningitis has now infected men in all five boroughs of New York, apparently spurred by anonymous sexual encounters facilitated by social mobile apps and Internet sites. 22 New Yorkers have been infected to date, and another seven have died from the disease.

The outbreak has prompted swift responses from city public health officials, who are urging men who have had intimate contact with other men to get vaccinated against meningitis as a precautionary measure:

“Vaccination is the best defense,” City health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement. “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.” […]

The disease is spread by “prolonged close contact with nose or throat discharges from an infected person,” the health department said in a September 2012 statement after the death of a patient. While vaccination can help prevent new infections, “people that have been in prolonged close contact with infected people need to see their health-care provider immediately to receive preventive antibiotics,” the department added. […]

“I strongly recommend all men who have intimate contact with other men get vaccinated,” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said in a statement. “This disease is both potentially fatal and extremely contagious, so increasing the public’s awareness to this growing issue and encouraging vaccination are of the utmost importance.”

Particularly concerning is the fact that half of the recently-infected men are also HIV-positive. That raises the stakes considerably seeing as bacterial meningitis — which is already an extremely contagious and rapidly progressing disease — would be even deadlier for HIV-positive men with compromised immune systems.

While HIV transmission rates have steadily stabilized since 1980, men who have sex with men (MSM) remain particularly vulnerable to it, accounting for over 65 percent of all new infections in 2010. That trend is also reflected in New York City, which — despite its robust public school sex education requirements and plummeting teen pregnancy rates — has seen a troubling rise in syphilis and HIV transmission among MSM. Given that reality, vaccination truly is a crucial preventative measure for men in the city while the outbreak spreads.