New York City has been hit with a bacterial meningitis outbreak with 22 people infected so far, according to the health officials who are urging for vaccination against infection.
Bacterial meningitis causes an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord appears to be spreading through sexual encounters between men who meet up online and at bars and parties, according to a news release from the NYC’s health department.
“Vaccination is the best defense,” City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in the release.
“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.”
Four new cases of meningitis among men who have sex with men have been reported since the beginning of January, the health department said.
There have been 22 reported cases since 2010, including seven deaths caused by the disease.
The New York City Council is working with health department officials to educate people on how to properly protect themselves, according to City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.
“While the rise in cases of the disease commonly known as meningitis is concerning, particularly for men who are HIV-positive or who have sex with men, vaccines and treatments are available,” Christine Quinn said in the release.
“The City is also offering information and resources on the web and through 311,” she said.
“The Council will work to ensure that the public is educated about this disease and the increased risk so that New Yorkers are armed with the information they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
According to the health department’s count, more than half of the infected men have had HIV, a virus that attacks the immune system making infections more likely and more severe.
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the brain and spinal cord’s protective membranous lining, called the meninges.
Early symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and a rash within 10 days of the infection, medical sources state.
The disease can cause brain damage, hearing loss and in some cases death if left untreated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“People that have been in prolonged close contact with infected people need to see their health-care provider immediately to receive preventive antibiotics,” the NYC health department said.