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Caution advised after West Hollywood lawyer contracts meningitis

April 12, 2013|By Ari Bloomekatz

The deteriorating condition of a West Hollywood lawyer diagnosed with meningitis earlier this week heightened concerns by local officials about the possible spread of the disease.

[For the record, 11:46 p.m. April 12: An earlier version of this article, quoting West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, incorrectly reported that a man who had contracted meningitis had died. A family spokeswoman said the man, Brett Shaad, has been declared brain dead but remained on life support Friday night.]

The meningitis case of West Hollywood resident Brett Shaad, and the meningitis cases of gay men in New York City, have officials in West Hollywood warning residents to take precautions.

“We don’t want to panic people,” said West Hollywood Councilman John Duran, who serves a city with a heavy gay and lesbian population. “But we learned 30 years ago the consequences of delay in the response to AIDS. We are sounding the alarm that sexually active gay men need to be aware that we have a strain of meningitis that is deadly on our hands.”

Also late in the day, the medical director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center called on county health officials to make the meningitis vaccine available for free to any gay and bisexual man who wants to receive it.

During a midafternoon news conference at West Hollywood City Hall, a choked-up Duran said Shaad was brain-dead.

Only a week or so ago, Duran said, he had seen the lawyer, whom he described as extremely fit. Officials said that over Easter weekend he had attended the White Party in Palm Springs, an annual spring break gathering that generally draws 8,000 to 10,000 gay men from across the country. Sometime after, the man was hospitalized, his health rapidly declined and he was diagnosed with meningitis.

Though meningitis is not a sexually transmitted disease, the White Party “is known for being a weekend of fun, play, dance and sex,” Duran said.

But Duran added that it was important to note “we don’t know yet if we can make that connection between individuals at the White Party and the resident. We don’t want to be alarmist … but at the same time, we’d rather be alarmist than sit back and be criticized” for not doing anything, he said.

Through his publicist, White Party founder Jeffrey Sanker issued a statement Friday: “My heart goes out to the parents and siblings [of the infected lawyer] as we have always regarded all our party participants as extended family.

“From what we all know to date, the origin of the case is inconclusive; nonetheless, like many large gatherings gay or straight, people are often in close intimate contact with each other. However, we have always been very proactive in distributing literature for the health and safety of our patrons so everyone can be educated and informed.”

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