Chicago health officials urge gay men to get meningitis vaccine

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Gay and bisexual men are being urged to get a meningitis vaccine to protect themselves from a small but growing outbreak in the Chicago area. Six men have been diagnosed with the disease since early June, and one of those men died.

Meningitis is transferred through saliva, which can be as simple as sharing a drink. Public health officials are trying to get the word out before Pride Fest this weekend.

Alderman Tom Tunney in the 44th Ward said he hoped to set an example for the gay community by getting vaccinated for meningitis on camera Friday.

"This is all about prevention, this is all about taking responsibility," Tunney said.

"Especially as we go into the summer months, with the Pride Parade coming and other opportunities where people are going to congregate, it's very important that people act now to access the vaccine," said Magda Houlberg, Howard Brown Health Center.

Chicago Dept. of Public Health officials say they have seen six cases in the last month and one patient has died. Men in the gay community are at most risk, and that's why the health department is strongly urging they get vaccinated.

"It is a very serious disease and a high percentage of people who get infected will end up hospitalized, and they can die," said Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita.

Officials said they are especially concerned on the eve of Chicago Pride weekend, when tens of thousands of people will converge on the Boystown neighborhood to celebrate.

Gilberto Soberamis is taking no chances. He got the vaccine last week.

"Everyone gets the flu vaccination. It's something that's easily transmittable but something can be done before, just being proactive about it," Soberamis said.

"From a public health perspective, we are concerned about Pride and have been concerned about Pride activities because we know that people get together in close proximity, are in close contact with each other. So that's why there's an element of urgency in getting this message out and getting people vaccinated," Dr. Morita said.

Meningitis symptoms include headache, fever and nausea. While a treatment for meningitis is available, health officials urge vaccinations as a preventative measure.

Free vaccinations are available through the Chicago Dept. of Public Health. Anyone who was vaccinated more than five years ago should get a booster shot.
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