State health officials are amplifying their recommendation that men who have sex with men get meningitis shots, after tests confirmed that a recent death in Minnesota is linked to a strain that circulated among gay communities in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
Confirmation of a C serogroup strain in Minnesota, which has caused seven infections and one death among gay men in Chicago this summer, has increased the urgency for vaccination in a population that normally doesn’t receive it, officials said.
“We don’t want this disease to get a foothold in Minnesota,” said Michael Schommer, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.
A new state health campaign will include targeted social media messages about vaccination and ads on Grindr, a mobile app for men who have sex with men, as well as outreach to organizations such as the Minnesota AIDS Project, Schommer said.
The efforts expand on the basic vaccination advisory the Health Department issued on July 17, when it announced that a Ramsey County man in his mid-40s had died from bacterial meningitis.
Vaccination against four strains of bacterial meningitis, including the C serogroup, is recommended for adolescents at ages 11 to 12, followed by a booster at age 16.
The greatest risk of infection historically has been for infants and for teens aged 16 to 23, in part because the bacteria spreads easily among college students or others who live and spend time in close quarters. Sharing a drinking glass, for example, can transmit the bacteria.
“This is really something important for men who have sex with men to be aware of. It’s not going away,” said Kris Ehresmann, who directs the state health department’s immunization programs.
Bacterial meningitis causes severe swelling in the brain and around the spinal cord, and in the U.S. has a fatality rate of 10 percent to 15 percent.
Concerns increase for men who have sex with men because of their higher rate of HIV infection, which can compromise the immune system and increase the risks of harm from bacterial meningitis.
The Minnesota man who died was HIV positive.