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Meningitis outbreak: LA officials criticized for being slow to announce deaths

News release from LA County Department of Public Health initially failed to announce three deaths from meningitis.
By Danielle Haynes   |   April 8, 2014 at 10:30 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, April 8 (UPI) -- Los Angeles County officials were too slow to announce the deaths of four people from meningitis, health and gay advocates said.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health announced Thursday that eight cases of the deadly meningococcal disease had been diagnosed in the county in 2014, four of which occurred in gay men, three of whom were HIV-positive. Three of the eight infected died.

Some advocates said there had not been enough outreach done for high-risk populations within the county, including non-English speakers, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I'm worried that the county has not done enough to protect the people of Los Angeles County," said Leonardo Martinez, who identified himself as HIV-positive at a Board of Supervisors meeting in the county Tuesday.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation said the county should help the organization financially in its efforts to offer vaccines against meningitis.

"Gay people's health has been historically and very negatively impacted by government's inaction and lack of acknowledgment," said Whitney Engeran-Crodova, director of the foundation's public health division.

There was also some anger about the fact that the initial news release the public health department sent out failed to mention that three people died.

Public health director Jonathan Fielding said the omission happened inadvertently because the department had been rushing to get the news out.

"I'm actually proud of the response of our department. I think we've been responsive, we've been timely, and I think we've been sensitive to the concerns of getting information out in a timely manner," he said.

The county will provide free vaccinations for patients without health insurance.
Invasive meningococcal disease causes meningitis, an inflammation of the the meninges, the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can be spread through exposure to sneezing and coughing and contact with saliva and mucous. Kissing, sharing beverages or cigarettes, and living in group settings can transmit the bacteria responsible for infection.

Symptoms usually onset within five days of exposure to the bacteria, and may include a high fever, stiff neck, aches, and an aversion to bright lights.

[Los Angeles Times]

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