Health officials renewed their call for vaccinations Wednesday after at least eight cases of the most dangerous form of meningitis, invasive meningococcal disease, were reported in Los Angeles County.
Half the confirmed cases were among gay men, three of whom were HIV-positive, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Three of those four cases also confirmed either living in or socialized in West Hollywood and North Hollywood, ages 27 to 28.
Invasive meningococcal disease, or IMD, is highly contagious and is the most severe form of meningitis, health officials said.
"This does cause us some concern," West Hollywood City Councilman Josh Duran said. "It's not a sexually transmitted disease but it is a casually transmitted through saliva droplets."
The health department came under fire last year for not pushing vaccinations after two meningitis deaths were reported in West Hollywood.
"Last time around, we did not have the same commonality among several of the individuals that we've had this time," LA County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said.
Gay and bisexual men are being urged to get the meningococcal vaccine regardless of HIV status, especially those who share cigarettes, marijuana or use illegal drugs, officials said.
"Invasive meningococcal disease is very serious and potentially deadly," said Robert Bolan, LA Gay and Lesbian Center medical director. "We’re concerned there have been four reported cases among gay and bisexual men in just the first three months of this year and that the county is reporting commonalities among some of the cases."
IMD is a sporadic and uncommon bacterial infection of the blood or the lining of the brain and spinal cord that can affect the entire body. The infection can cause brain damage, hearing loss, and even death. The bacteria can be spread by very close exposure to sneezing and coughing or direct contact with saliva or nose mucus.
Symptoms may include:
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Altered mental state
- Skin rash
- Severe headache
- Low blood pressure
- Aversion to bright lights
- General muscle pain
Symptoms usually occur within 5 days of the exposure, but may present as many as 10 days after exposure. The disease progresses rapidly and officials urge immediate diagnosis and treatment.
People who do not have health insurance can get free vaccinations through the health department beginning Thursday.
For a listing of clinics, call the LA County Information Line at 211 or visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/.
NBC4's Mekahlo Medina and Dr. Bruce Hensel contributed to this report.