Chicago offers free meningitis inoculations to gay men

October 21, 2003

CHICAGO — The city Department of Health is offering free inoculations against bacterial meningitis to gay men on the city's North Side in response to a meningitis outbreak that has killed three people.

Dr. John Wilhelm, the city's health commissioner, said laboratory test results confirmed Sunday that four of six meningitis cases reported so far were from a bacterial strain for which there is an effective vaccine.

Wilhelm said the disease is not tied to sexual orientation, but the recent cluster of cases appears to be centered among gay or bisexual men who have had close personal contact since Oct. 1.

Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection that can be rapidly fatal if not treated with antibiotics. It is spread by direct contact with an infected person.

The health department ordered 7,500 doses of the vaccine, at a cost of $50 per dose, officials said.

The city has not offered mass immunization against the disease since an outbreak in the early 1980s. Fifteen to 40 meningitis cases are normally reported every year in the city, health officials said. –Sapa-AP



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