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Meningitis scare: From 'fit as can be' to life support in one week

April 12, 2013|By Ari Bloomekatz

A 31-year-old West Hollywood resident, who was described as being extremely fit only a week or so ago, is now in a coma and on life support after being diagnosed with "full-blown meningitis," city officials said. 

West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran issued a warning to residents and gay men on Friday, saying he did not want to panic people, but wanted them to be aware of the case and take the necessary precautions.

Duran said one of his concerns is that the man attended the annual White Party in Palm Springs over Easter Weekend, an event that attracts gay men from across the country.

"What I'm worried about is the gay male community just had the White Party ... knowing that we've had lots of gay men in [from] New York ... we're very concerned because the White Party is known for being a weekend of fun, play, dance and sex," Duran said. 

"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, adding that the man had indeed participated in the White Party in some fashion.

"I just saw him last week here in town, fit as can be, muscular," Duran said. 

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.

Duran said that the gym where the 31-year-old works out -- Equinox in West Hollywood -- was contacted to inform its members about the case.

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 believe may have been transmitted from men to men during close encounters.

But Duran is sounding the alarm about another issue as well -- saying there may not be enough of the vaccine for meningitis in the county to serve demand.

"That is scary," Duran said. 

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Twitter: @aribloomekatz | Facebook

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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