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Meningococcal Disease Outbreak Hits Chicago: Health Officials

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Health officials from the Chicago Department of Public Health say a small outbreak of meningococcal disease has hit the city. On June 3, the health sector issued an outbreak alert, particularly for gay men who are sexually active. Fox 32 News reports that three cases of meningococcal disease were confirmed among the population of "MSM," or men who have sex with men group.

The health administrators said an outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease has occurred among a small subgroup, gay men who subscribe to and use smartphone dating apps to meet and have sex with other men. "To include men who have sex with men who are living with HIV, men who have sex anonymously and men who have sex with men who use hook-up applications ... to identify other sexual partners," says Commissioner Julie Morita from the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Morita recommends vaccination for individuals including MSM who are members of online dating apps, MSM who are diagnosed with HIV and MSM who have anonymous sexual relationships. More than 24 locations across the city are identified to support vaccination programs and administer meningococcal disease vaccines for free, including the Walgreens in downtown Chicago. Although the vaccines are available at no charge, a co-pay may be necessary.

The outbreak alert made by the local health sector signifies that people should consider safety in terms of decisions pertaining to sexual relationships, says David Ernesto Munar, CEO of the Howard Brown Health Center, which serves the LGBT community. "Those are always important messages, for people to think about the risk factor and take appropriate prevention or screening if think they've been exposed," he adds.

Meningococcal disease is an infection caused by bacteria that enter the meninges of the brain, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, and can spread through the entire bloodstream. The bacteria may be transmitted through direct contact with the saliva of an infected person; this is possible through close-contact activities including kissing, sexual intercourse, smoking the same cigarette and sharing the same utensils or drinking from each other's glasses. Infected individuals may experience symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, joint pain, chills and headache, says Dr. Stephanie Black. "Individuals may also develop symptoms including sensitivity to light and, importantly, people can develop a rash or confusion," she further warns.

"If you or your partner is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention," the health department urges.

In addition to obtaining the vaccine, the health department says people can also protect themselves from the disease by frequent hand washing, refraining from sharing drinks or smoking devices and by practicing safer sex.

Photo: torbakhopper | Flickr

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