The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene  is currently investigating a cluster of invasive meningococcal disease – commonly known as meningitis – among HIV-positive men who have sex with men.

According to a statement Friday, three cases of meningitis have occurred in Brooklyn and Queens since August 24, with the last two cases reported in the last three days.  Prior to this cluster, health officials reported a case in July


Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström
Meningitis symptoms/Public domain image/Mikael Häggström

In 2013, an outbreak of meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men ended in February that year after 22 cases were reported, including seven fatal cases.

The Health Department recommends meningitis vaccination for all HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Vaccinations are also recommended for men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (“app”), or at a bar or party.

“Meningitis is a serious disease and can be deadly if not treated right away,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. “Vaccination is the best defense against this disease. I urge all men who meet these criteria to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this deadly disease.”

Meningococcal meningitis is caused by the bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis, which causes the most severe form of bacterial meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can also be found in the bloodstream. This particular type of meningitis is very severe and can result in death if not treated promptly. Even in cases where treatment has been given, the fatality rate is around 15%.

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are sudden, with fever, stiff neck, body aches and headaches. As the disease progresses other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, photophobia and seizures. A petechial rash seen on the trunk and lower extremities, bleeding complications, multi-organ failures and shock are usually final signs. This disease has the ability to kill within hours of getting it.

Up to 10-20% of older children and young adults carry this organism in the mouth and nose, though the carriage rate will vary with age and closeness of population. The majority of people that carry this bacterium have no clinical disease. The organism is spread person to person through respiratory secretions from the nose and mouth (coughing, sneezing and kissing). Experts are unsure why some people advance to meningitis disease while many do not.

Crowded living conditions facilitate the spread of the organisms and places like military barracks and college dormitories are well-documented areas of concern with this disease.

If you have close contact with someone with meningococcal meningitis, see your doctor for prophylactic antibiotics.

Meningococcal meningitis is a devastating disease with epidemic potential. This disease is considered a medical emergency and if you have the classic symptoms see your health care professional. It can be treated with antibiotics, but without delay. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page

Meningococcal meningitis can be prevented with vaccination.