Meningitis death prompts vaccination warning for men who have sex with men

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The death of a Ramsey County man prompted a public health warning in Minnesota aimed at men who have sex with men.

State health officials are urging men who have sex with men (often shortened to MSM) to be vaccinated as soon as possible for meningococcal meningitis, after the Ramsey County resident because infected with and died from the disease.

In a news release, Minnesota Department of Health officials say they are concerned about possible connections between the victim and an ongoing outbreak of disease, though no direct connection has yet been found.

The release says the man in his 40s, who is known to have had sex with men, died in the past week from the disease, which caused by bacteria that progresses rapidly and can be fatal in about 10-15 percent of cases.

His condition was exacerbated by the fact he was also HIV-positive, which placed him at greater risk of developing serious illness from meningococcal meningitis, according to the department.

"We believe that the MSM community in Minnesota may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease," Kristen Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at the MDH, said. "We want to try to head off the possibility of an outbreak occurring here, so we strongly encourage all MSM, especially those who are HIV-positive, to go get vaccinated."

Who's most at risk in Minnesota?

Because the outbreak in Chicago has seen seven people infected in the MSM community, of whom one has died, the MDH says those who are most at risk of infection are HIV-infected men who have sex with men.

Also at high risk are men who regularly have close or intimate sexual contact with men met through websites, apps, or at bars or parties.

They are being advised to see their doctor of go to a vaccination clinic to get a quadrivalent meningococcal vaccination, which covers the bacteria (serogroup C Neisseria meningitidis) currently causing the outbreak.

The disease is transmitted through close personal contact in small droplets of saliva or nasal secretions, with those who have it contracting it through kissing, drinking directly from the same container, sharing smoking materials or through other contact with nose or throat secretions.

What is meningococcal meningitis?

According to WebMD, it is a "rare but serious infection" that causes the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed.

It affects around 1,000 people in the U.S. every year and can be fatal or cause serious complications without quick treatment, with the Centers for Disease Control saying around 15 percent of those who survive can be left with disabilities including deafness or brain damage.

The most common symptoms of the disease are sudden high fever, a severe and persistent headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, a discomfort with bright light, drowsiness, joint pain, and confusion.

WebMD said that a "reddish or purple" skin rash that doesn't turn white when a glass is pressed against it is another important sign to watch for, as the disease can cause blood poisoning.

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