West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, shown last year, is urging residents… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
West Hollywood city officials and community leaders warned residents Friday about a serious case of meningococcal infection recently found in Los Angeles County, a bacteria-caused illness that can lead to potentially deadly meningitis.
"We don't want to panic people," said West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran. "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."
Earlier this week, the county's top health officer said it was unclear if "this is an outbreak, single case, whatever," and said more tests needed to be done to identify the exact strain found.
There are "apparently some similarities" to an especially deadly strain found in New York in recent years that has resulted in 22 cases, including seven fatalities since 2010, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding of the Department of Public Health.
"But it's not identical," Fielding said.
Bacterial meningitis is a respiratory disease that can be treated with antibiotics if it is identified quickly. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, severe headaches and increased sensitivity to light.
People who are in very close contact with someone who has meningitis are at higher risk of contracting the disease because it can be spread by kissing or coughing, though it is not as contagious as the common cold. There is a vaccine available but it is recommended only for certain populations, including adolescents.
The outbreak in New York City involved a particular strain that health officials there believe may have been transmitted from men to men during close encounters.
"Typically, in meningitis outbreaks, about 1 out of 5 people die. With this outbreak ... we're seeing about 1 out of 3 people die," said officials with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
But as of Friday morning, it was unclear if there was any substantive, or troubling, relationship between the strain found in L.A. County and the strain in New York City. Nevertheless, city leaders in West Hollywood said they wanted to inform the community about what was going on.
Duran has scheduled a news conference at West Hollywood City Hall at 2 p.m. to talk about the issue and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center is also issuing a statement about the case.
"We certainly want to give people the facts as we know them and we don't want to cause any hysteria and we also want to make sure people have all the information," said Jim Key of the center.
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