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Should you get the meningococcal vaccine?

SAN DIEGO -- Although there are zero cases of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) in San Diego County, local health officials are putting out the word about the potential benefits of getting vaccinated especially if you plan to attend White Party Palm Springs or visit Los Angeles or New York City where a number of IMD-related deaths have occurred.

Meningococcal vaccine should ideally be administered at least two weeks before travel. White Party Palm Springs is scheduled from April 25 through April 28.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus [muh-ning-goh-KOK-us]. The illness most people are familiar with is meningococcal meningitis, which people sometimes just call meningitis. This usually means the lining of the brain and spinal cord have become infected with these bacteria. But these bacteria can also cause other severe illnesses, like bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).

Meningococcus bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., by living in close quarters, kissing). Although it can be very serious, meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics that prevent severe illness and reduce the spread of infection from person to person. Quick medical attention is extremely important if meningococcal disease is suspected. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best defense against meningococcal disease. Maintaining healthy habits, like getting plenty of rest and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can also help.

San Diego County health officials said they are following the recommendations of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LAC DPH), which were made in consultation with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health.

LA County has confirmed eight IMD cases since Jan. 1, 2014. Four cases involved men who have sex with men (MSM), three of whom were HIV-positive.

Three of the eight people died, all MSM, including two who were HIV-positive.

Three MSM cases reported residence in or socializing around the West Hollywood and North Hollywood areas. Three MSM cases were between the ages of 27 and 28 and one was age 50.

Three MSM cases were caused by Neisseria meningitidis serogroup C and the other MSM case was caused by serogroup Y.

After consultation with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, LAC DPH recommends the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) for the following groups:

• All HIV-positive MSM

• All MSM, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have close or intimate contact with multiple partners, or who seek partners through the use of a digital applications (“apps”), particularly those who share cigarettes, marijuana or use illegal drugs

HIV-positive individuals are recommended to receive a two-dose primary series of the MCV4 vaccine two months apart to improve the initial immune response to vaccination. Those who have no health insurance may be referred to the network of community clinics in the county, and may call 211 for further assistance in getting linked to vaccination services.

Information about IMD may be found at the CDC meningococcal disease website.

Questions may also be directed to the County of San Diego Health & Human Service Agency Public Health Services Epidemiology Program at 619-692-8499.