THE LOOP — Two new cases of viral meningitis have broken out in Chicago's gay community, and now the city is asking all sexually active gay and bisexual men to get vaccinated.
The two new cases are related to an outbreak in the virus from last summer that saw seven Chicagoans infected, including one man who died from the virus, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
All of the nine confirmed cases of meningitis have been in men who have sex with men, said Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the department of public health. She said the three most at-risk populations are: men who have sex with men, HIV-positive men and gay men of color.
Though the virus can cause death and other serious disabilities, meningitis can be prevented by a vaccine. Any man who thinks they could be at risk should get a vaccine, Morita said.
"We've seen outbreaks in communities across the country," Morita said at a press conference at the Department of Public Health offices downtown. "Fortunately, we have a good vaccine that is very effective. We need to get this out aggressively as possible."
Meningococcal meningitis is spread through close contact with infected saliva, Morita said. It can be spread through kissing or sharing drinks and cigarettes, she said.
It can take two to 10 days after initial infection for symptoms to appear, and symptoms include fever, headache and a stiff neck, perhaps leading to nausea, vomiting, confusion and heightened sensitivity to light.
Any sexually active gay or bisexual men with these symptoms should immediately see a doctor, Morita said.
The Department of Public Health is partnering with Walgreens and 80 community and clinical service groups to get the vaccine out to at-risk populations. Howard Brown Health Center, 4025 N. Sheridan Rd., will be one of those partners, said David Ernesto Munar, CEO of the clinic.
A list of clinics where the vaccination is available can be found on the Department of Public Health's website.
Munar said his group will work with the city to conduct "street outreach," where advocates work to pass out information at festivals and other events.
"We are confident in our ability to reach the people who need vaccines this year," he said.
The nine confirmed cases constitutes an outbreak and therefore vaccines are provided by the federal Center for Disease control for little-to-no-cost for those needing it, Morita said.
A few of Chicago's confirmed meningitis cases resulted in "serious" repercussions for some patients, including significant disability, said Dr. Allison Arwady, chief medical officer for the Department of Public Health.
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