Chicago health officials are reporting a small outbreak of  Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) in men who have sex with men (MSM) prompting them to urge people in this population who have anonymous sex partners or use ‘hook up’ apps to identify sexual partners to get vaccinated against the serious bacterial disease.

 Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC
Gram-negative Neisseria meningitidis diplococcal bacteria/CDC

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommends MSM who are HIV positive or MSM who have anonymous sex partners contact their doctor or pharmacist to request the vaccine, which will protect them from infection. The vaccine is safe and effective. The vaccine is also available at no cost at CDPH clinics and partner sites, where co-pays may apply.

“Meningococcal disease is very serious but preventable,” said CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD. “Vaccines are available and we urge anyone who may be at risk to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.”

Related: New York City officials investigate meningitis cluster in HIV positive gay men

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis. This includes bloodstream infections and meningitis. Meningococcal disease can cause symptoms including fever, headache and a stiff neck. Some people may experience nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and altered mental status or confusion. If you or your partner is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Though less contagious than a common cold, the disease spreads through prolonged, close contact with saliva that can include intimate kissing, sexual contact, sharing drinks or sharing marijuana and cigarettes. If you are a sexually active MSM in Chicago who is living with HIV or if you have had intimate or sexual contact with other men via smart phone social apps, you may be at risk for the disease. If you meet the above criteria, see your doctor or pharmacist to request a vaccine. If you are uninsured, visit or call 311 to find a CDPH clinic or partner site.

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In addition to receiving the vaccination, you can also protect yourself from the disease by frequent hand washing, refraining from sharing drinks or smoking devices and by practicing safer sex.