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Health officials trace meningitis roots to quash outbreak fears

April 23, 2013|By Ari Bloomekatz
  • Dylan Cantrell, 27, of West Hollywood, receives a meningitis vaccination from registered nurse Karen Haughey of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Dylan Cantrell, 27, of West Hollywood, receives a meningitis vaccination… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

L.A. County officials said they compared a strain of meningitis from a case in April that killed a West Hollywood lawyer to others in the county to determine whether there was an outbreak.

While officials found the strains were part of a similar subgroup that included some similar cases of men who had a history of sexual contact with other men, they ultimately determined that “a preliminary reading of the genetic fingerprints ... shows it is not highly related to other cases in Los Angeles County, Southern California, or New York City," according to a news release.

The outbreak in New York, primarily among gay men, has infected nearly two dozen people and killed seven in recent years. And the death of West Hollywood resident Brett Shaad, among others late last year, prompted concern among some health advocates that a possible outbreak could have started in L.A. County.

“Public Health has not identified any other cases of meningococcal disease associated with this patient, nor identified any linkage between this patient and cases being reported in other areas of the country,” according to a news release from the Department of Public Health.

While there can be a range from year to year, L.A. County averages 25 cases of meningitis annually, health officials said. In the news release, they said that “even with prompt treatment, the mortality rate is 10% to 15%.”

Symptoms may include a stiff neck, fever, severe headaches, an altered mental state and low blood pressure.

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center said in a statement they were "relieved that the L.A. County Department of Public Health has determined the most recent case of meningitis is unrelated to earlier cases among gay men in New York and Los Angeles and that there is not a meningitis outbreak among gay/bi men here."

"We’re also pleased that DPH is on high alert and will advise us of any new cases so we can keep the community informed," said Jim Key of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

The county health department describes meningitis as “a rare infection of the lining of the brain and the spinal cord” that is “spread by very close exposure to sneezing and coughing or direct contact with” saliva or nasal mucus.

While it is generally rare and harder to catch than the common cold, meningitis can be deadly.

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joe.serna@latimes.com

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