April 18, 2013

Multnomah County health officials said Wednesday that despite reports of bacterial meningitis elsewhere, there have been no reports of the disease among gay men in Multnomah County.

“There has been no change in the disease pattern in the Portland area that would suggest an increased risk at this time,’’ said Dr. Justin Denny, health officer for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

Dr. Denny spoke in response to national news about 18 cases that occurred in New York in 2012 and the recent death of a Los Angeles man who attended a national Palm Springs, Calif. gathering.

Meningococcal meningitis is a rare infection of the lining of the brain and the spinal cord. While most people recover, the disease can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or death.

Meningitis is not transmitted in a brief conversation or just being in the same room with someone. It is transmitted by direct contact with the saliva or nose mucus of a person known to be infected. This can happen if you spend a few hours within a few feet of someone or through kissing and other intimate contact.

People who have direct contact with the saliva or nose mucus of a person known to be infected with meningitis should immediately call their doctor. Antibiotics after an exposure can prevent disease. The most important reason that meningococcal meningitis is investigated by public health workers is to identify who needs antibiotics. If there are cases in this community, Multnomah County will need your help.

Symptoms may include fever, stiff neck, altered mental status, rash, severe headache, low blood pressure, and generalized muscle pains. The symptoms can appear quickly or over several days. Typically they develop within three to seven days after exposure.

Meningitis is a disease reportable to public health departments so Multnomah County has a robust program to track and prevent outbreaks.

Routine vaccination for meningitis is not recommended for people over age 21. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Oregon and Multnomah County have not changed that recommendation.

People with further questions should speak to their primary care provider or at  Multnomah County or the CDC