Chicago health officials are closely monitoring several cases of meningitis that have recently broken out in the Los Angeles area, but say that for now there is no evidence that any widespread outbreak has spread to the Chicago region.
Eight Los Angeles County residents, four of whom were gay or bisexual men, have come down with meningitis in 2014. Three of those men have died; two of them were HIV-positive. Los Angeles County health officials are calling for HIV-positive men to be vaccinated, as well as other men who regularly have sex with men.
"Every year Los Angeles has between 12 - 30 cases of this terrible infection," said Dr. Robert Bolan, medical director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, in a statement. "Though the number of total cases since January 1 [isn't] outside the expected range, the number of gay men who have been infected is."
Brian Richardson, director of Communications for Chicago Department of Public Health, said that there has only been one reported case of meningitis in Chicago in 2014, "So we are not calling for mass vaccinations right now. But we are closely monitoring the situation in Los Angeles and keeping in close contact with the CDC."
Dr. Magda Houlberg, chief medical officer at Howard Brown Health Center, said that meningitis is often passed when individuals are in close quarters, through sexual contact or sharing of towels or eating utensils, for example.
"So if you think you might be at risk for meningitis, you should definitely speak with your physician about getting vaccinated," she added. "What's scariest about meningitis is how quickly the symptoms cake take hold, usually over three to seven days."
Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and stiff neck.
Chicago health officials were last year concerned when a meningitis outbreak amongst gay and bisexual men in New York City occurred relatively close to the time of the International Mr. Leather weekend. CDPH officials passed out flyers to raise awareness of meningitis symptoms, in case an unknowingly infected individual had traveled to IML.
"This year there will likely be enough time for the Los Angeles health department to contain the situation before IML," Houlberg said.
The NYC outbreak last year led the CDC to conclude that gay and bisexual men were at an increased risk of meningitis.