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NYC Public Health Officials Worry about Deadly Strain of Meningitis Circulating

Update Date: Mar 22, 2013 02:15 PM EDT

Officials in New York City are struggling to get the word out about a new strain of meningitis that is circulating New York. So far, the strain has infected 22 people, all of them men - 13 last year and four this year. Seven people have died, meaning that the disease, which has killed one in three people, is even more fatal than more typical strains that kill one of five.

According to the New York Times, meningitis is typically difficult to treat. That is because the symptoms are so subtle. The condition often begins with flu-like symptoms, like a fever, headache or rash, and can end fatally before the victim even has an opportunity to go to the doctor.

Over the last three years, public health officials have been forced to contend with a new strain of bacterial meningitis. The particularly deadly strain has been spreading in New York City among men who have sex with men who they meet on online dating applications, bars, clubs or parties. Because the affected men have sex anonymously, it makes it difficult to track who might be infected.

The strain of meningitis can be treated with the existing vaccine. Unfortunately, it has been difficult for officials to get the word out. Many of the men at risk do not consider themselves to be gay or bisexual, so it is difficult to reach them through typical outlets like gay community centers. Officials fear that the outbreak might mushroom into a major health outbreak, with very little to stand in its way.

So far, New York City's government issued a statement asking that all men who regularly have sex with men to receive a meningitis vaccine, regardless of HIV status. Officials suspect that HIV status may have something to do with the infection, however; 12 of the 22 men who have been confirmed as infected with the disease were HIV-positive.

Officials suspect that this strain of meningitis can be traced to one that surfaced in 2005 or 2006. That strain circulated among people with drug addiction, before dissipating.

Meningitis typically spreads in places where people share close quarters, like dormitories.

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