The BC Centre for Disease Control is still recording cases of infections caused by the meningococcal group C bacteria in gay men in the Lower Mainland and BC. These infections have resulted in meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain) and blood stream infections. Five of the nine cases (56%) identified since September 2004 have died from their infection. This includes 2 deaths in March and April 2005, which means that the bacteria is still being spread in the gay community.
How is the bacteria spread?
The meningococcal bacteria is spread through saliva. Most of the cases that we have seen in BC had a history of sharing joints with friends or acquaintances in the week before they became ill, and that appears to be how they became infected. Other ways the bacteria is spread includes kissing on the lips or mouth, or by sharing drinks, glasses, water bottles, eating utensils, toothbrushes or cigarettes. People can carry the bacteria and pass it to others without getting sick themselves.
How do I protect myself?
The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated – especially if you share joints. Local public health departments and family doctors are offering free meningococcal C vaccine for all gay and bisexual men. The vaccination is safe, effective and provides long-lasting protection after one week. You can also protect yourself by not taking part in activities where saliva is shared for at least one week after you are vaccinated.
How do I know if I have a meningococcal infection?
The symptoms of meningococcal infection include a severe headache, stiff neck, vomiting, confusion and feeling very sick. If you have these symptoms you should go to your local Emergency Department immediately. Other symptoms include fever or a skin rash of tiny reddish-purple bruise-like spots.
For more information on the outbreak or where to get the vaccine in your area, contact your doctor, local health clinic or visit www.bccdc.org.