An outbreak of contagious meningitis unrelated to the larger one spreading across the country is sending some New York City men to clinics for vaccines.
While the national meningitis outbreak is fungal, this smaller outbreak is a bacterial version of the disease. It has only struck local men who are HIV-positive – 12 of them in all this year, including five in the last month. One man has died, and another was in critical condition, but appears to be recovering.
Health authorities say HIV-positive men should get vaccinated against bacterial meningitis, if they've had intimate contact with new acquaintances they’ve made via the internet and digital apps, or at bars and parties in recent weeks. The city Health Department estimates about 10,000 men meet these criteria.
Nick Georges doesn’t fall under those guidelines, but he came to the Callen-Lorde clinic in Chelsea to get a shot, anyway.
“You have a bunch of people having sex willy-nilly,” Georges said, “and that sea of gay — you drop those kinds of things in there, and look what's happening. It doesn't shock me, but it's something I'd like to be careful about.”
Dr. Gal Mayer, the medical director at Callen-Lorde, said the clinic has been getting about 20 calls a day from people about meningitis. Many of them are confused between the two outbreaks, and some of them have reported symptoms.
“There’s a lot of clarification that we have to do,” Mayer said.
Those with symptoms have been directed to hospital emergency rooms, but none of their cases have been confirmed as meningitis.
“Within my small cluster of friends, we’ve been communicating — making sure we get vaccinated or talk to our doctors,” Georges said. “But I’ve had to tell other people who are [HIV]-positive, friends of mine, about the whole entire thing. They didn’t know anything about it.”
Meningitis can be deadly if not detected and treated early with intravenous antibiotics.
The steroid-related meningitis has no vaccine and is not contagious.
Corrections: WNYC originally stated meningitis had only struck local men who were HIV-positive. This is incorrect. Only some of the men were HIV-positive. WNYC also reported that 12 local men were struck by meningitis this year. This is also incorrect. Twelve local men were reported to have meningitis over a two-year period. WNYC regrets the errors.