WWH Speaks to D.C. Meningitis Concerns

Whitman-Walker Health advises Washington-area gay and bi men not to worry after California and New York cases

By John Riley
Published on April 18, 2013, 3:19pm | Comments

Local health experts say there's no cause for concern among gay and bisexual men in the District who might be worried about contracting meningitis following the death of Brett Shaad, 33, a gay West Hollywood resident, last week, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, and a small outbreak in New York City, primarily among gay men, that killed seven in recent years.

Dr. Ray Martins, the chief medical officer for Whitman-Walker Health, the local nonprofit community health center specializing in LGBT-sensitive care, posted a statement on Whitman-Walker's website Tuesday telling District residents that there is currently no ''outbreak'' of meningitis among gay or bisexual men in D.C. If such an outbreak were to occur, the D.C. Department of Health (DOH) would issue a warning, Martins explained.

Raymond C. Martins

Raymond C. Martins

(Photo by via Whitman-Walker.org)

There has been no statement regarding an outbreak of meningitis published on the D.C. Department of Health website this year. Messages left with the DOH were not returned.

Although there is a vaccine for bacterial meningitis, it is not kept in stock because it is not commonly used, Martins said. Whitman-Walker spokesman Chip Lewis confirmed to Metro Weekly that patients may request the vaccine, but it will take about a day from the time of the request to arrive at the health center.

The New York Department of Health and the city's Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) recommend vaccinations for those men traveling to New York who are gay or otherwise have sex with men (MSM) who have had intimate contact with partners they met through social websites such as Manhunt or Adam4Adam, a digital application such as Grindr or Scruff, or at a bar or party since Sept. 1, 2012.

Meningitis is transmitted through exposure to an infected person's oral fluids, whether through kissing, coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils or drinking glasses. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck, and are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and confusion, and usually develop within three to seven days after exposure. Anyone with symptoms should see a health care provider.

''Again, take all precautions to protect your health, but do not panic,'' Martins said in Whitman-Walker's notification. ''There is no current emergency in D.C. If one is declared at some point, WWH will be there to help.''