Los Angeles County health officials announced Wednesday they would offer free meningitis vaccinations for the poor and uninsured as they tried to dispel fears of an outbreak sparked by the rapid death of a West Hollywood lawyer.
The number of meningitis cases reported this year in Los Angeles County has not been unusually high, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health. There have been 13 cases of meningitis countywide over the last five months, four of them fatal, he said.
Typically, the county sees 20 to 30 cases a year, with less than 15 percent resulting in death, Fielding said.
"Right now, we do not have an outbreak of meningococcal diseasein Los Angeles County," Fielding said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
"The rate of new infections that we've received this year is no different than what we've seen over the past five or eight years," he added.
Fielding said the agency would remain "vigilant and on alert" and would deploy resources "at the first hint" of an outbreak.
The county's announcement came a day after West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran urged health officials to reveal more information about the infections following the Saturday meningitis death of Brett Shaad, 33. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation began offering free meningitis vaccines on Monday and has since given about 1,500.
"I'm very glad that Dr. Fielding is speaking out now," said foundation communications director Ged Kenslea. "I think he's a few days late and a few dollars short ... Information is free. How much does it cost to put out an alert?"
After Shaad died, the foundation publicized the December deaths of two other young Southern California men - Rjay Spoon, 30, of Los Angeles, and an unidentified 30-year-old San Diego State University student who lived in Chula Vista.
Adding to the fear of a potential outbreak was the fact that Shaad and Spoon were gay, and Shaad was in Palm Springs on the same weekend it was the location of the White Party, a dance festival attended by thousands of gay men March 29 to April 1, the foundation said.
However, Fielding told NBC4 earlier this week that meningitis is rare, but can affect anyone.
"This is not a gay disease," Fielding said. "It is not as communicable as many viral diseases, or influenza or the common cold."
The two recent cases in the Los Angeles area since December have not given the county cause to sound the alarm, he said.
"If we had an outbreak like New York or Chicago had... we would go all out and make sure everybody received immunization," Fielding said.
Duran, the West Hollywood city councilman, however, urged Los Angeles County officials to attack the illness proactively. He said New York City officials tried avoid creating a panic about the illness, but only after several deaths recommended that gay men should receive meningitis vaccinations.
Infections from the bacteria that causes meningitis can be spread from person to person through respiratory and throat secretions and are common in close quarters -- such as military barracks and college dormitories -- according to the Centers for Disease Control website. Person-to-person contact must be close – such as kissing, sex or sharing food – for the bacteria to spread.
Those who have been in close contact with a patient with meningococcal disease should be treated with antibiotics to prevent the illness from progressing, according to the CDC.
The locations where those who qualify can obtain free meningitis vaccines are listed below:
Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
1000 W. Carson St.
Torrance, CA 90502
Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
High Desert Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center
44900 N. 60th St West
Lancaster, CA 93536
7 Days a Week 8:00 am – 12 Midnight
LAC + USC Medical Center
2051 Marengo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Monday – Saturday 7:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Hubert H. Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center
5850 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90003
7 Days a Week 8:00 a.m. – Midnight
H. Claude Hudson Comprehensive Health Center
2829 S. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007
7 Days a Week 8:00 a.m. – Midnight
MLK Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center (MACC)
12021 S. Wilmington Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90059
7 Days a Week 7:30 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Olive View-UCLA Medical Center
144454 Olive View Dr.
Sylmar, Ca. 91342
Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.