The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced on Thursday that three of the eight people it had earlier reported to have been infected with invasive meningococcal disease this year have died.

The department said that one of the victims died in February while the two passed away in late March. All three were men in their 20's that had sex with other men prompting the department to urge men who have sex with men (MSM) to get vaccinated.

"All HIV-positive MSM and all MSM, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have close or intimate contact with multiple partners, or who seek partners through the use of digital applications, particularly those who share cigarettes, marijuana or use illegal drugs, should visit their health provider to be vaccinated against invasive meningococcal disease," Jonathan Fielding, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is considered as one of the most severe forms of meningitis. It is characterized by high fever, vomiting and rapidly spreading rash that begins as purplish or reddish spots in the skin that do not disappear when pressed.

The disease is likewise very contagious and is spread though kissing, coughing, as well as through sharing of toothbrush, food and drinks. Severe cases could lead to hallucination and coma and if left untreated could result in death.

Robert Bolan, medical director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, explained why it is crucial that men who have sexual contact with other men get vaccinated. He said that MSM's have higher risks for contracting the disease and more so if they are HIV positive. Bolan said that it isn't clear why gay men are particularly vulnerable but those who are HIV positive have weakened immune system making them more at risk of contracting the disease.

Bolan said that while the meningitis cases do not still constitute an epidemic, there's reason for the gay community to be alarmed.

"I think the important thing to understand is this is not an epidemic," Bolan said. "But there's a pretty strong signal that men who have sex with men, at least those who are HIV-positive, are at increased risk for invasive meningococcal disease."

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.