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Three new cases of invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) have been reported in men who have sex with men (MSM) since August 24, 2014. Two of these cases were reported in just the last three days. All are Black and/or Hispanic, between the ages of 21 and 55 years, and HIV-infected. Two of these are serogroup C, and one is pending. Two reside in Brooklyn (Zip Code 11212), and one in Queens. No cases have died. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recommends meningococcal vaccination for the following persons:

  • All HIV-infected men who have sex with men
  • Men who have sex with men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have close or intimate contact with other men met either through an online website, digital application (“app”), or at a bar or party

If you think you may be at risk, please read the answers to some important questions below:

What is invasive meningococcal disease?
Invasive meningococcal disease is a serious infection that can cause a high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash. Some people die from the infection. If you develop these symptoms, you should immediately seek medical care.

Does having HIV put me at greater risk of invasive meningococcal disease?
People living with HIV are at greater risk than the general population of acquiring the infection that causes invasive meningococcal disease. Approximately 20% of people who develop the disease die of it.

How is invasive meningococcal disease spread?
The disease is spread by prolonged close contact with an infected person. Examples of prolonged close contact include kissing and having sex. In addition, sharing eating utensils, a drinking glass, or a cigarette with an infected person may spread the disease. It is NOT spread by simply breathing the air where a person with the disease has been.

How can I protect myself?
There are several vaccines licensed for use in adults that can help protect people against invasive meningococcal disease. Meningococcal vaccine may provide protection 7 to 10 days after vaccination, but not everyone will develop protective levels of antibodies. If you are HIV-infected and you do receive the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, you should return to your health care provider eight weeks later for a second dose.

If you are HIV-infected and need a health care provider, call 311 to find one.

If you do not know your current HIV status, get tested. NYC residents can receive a free HIV test at one of the Health Department’s Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) or Tuberculosis (TB) clinics, regardless of insurance or immigration status. Call 311 to find a location near you.

Should I get vaccinated with the meningococcal vaccine?
If you meet all the criteria listed above, then the Health Department recommends that you receive meningococcal vaccine.

I meet some, but not all, of the criteria. For example, I am a man, I have had sex with men that I met using an online dating site since September 1, 2012, but I am HIV negative.

Do I need to get the vaccine?
The Health Department is focusing its recommendations on people with HIV who meet the criteria described, because these people are at highest risk of becoming sick. You should discuss with your health care provider about your specific health situation and make a decision together whether you should be vaccinated or not.

Is this a live vaccine?
The vaccines do not contain any live bacteria.

What are the risks and side effects of the vaccine?
Up to about half of people who get meningococcal vaccines have mild side effects, such as redness or pain where the shot was given. These symptoms usually last for one or two days. A small percentage of people who receive the vaccine develop a fever. Severe reactions, such as a serious allergic reaction, are very rare.

How long does vaccine protection last?
There is currently not enough data to know exactly how long protection will last in HIV-infected persons. Additional data is needed to determine whether a booster dose is necessary five years after the initial 2-dose series.

If I was vaccinated in college, do I need to get the vaccine now?
Some people who were vaccinated in the past may need to receive a second (“booster”) dose. Please discuss your individual vaccination history with your doctor to decide if you need to an additional dose of vaccine.

Where can I find vaccine?
First, check with your health care provider, who may have the vaccine on hand. If not, you can call 311.

Is this in any way related to the other meningitis outbreak that has been traced back to a steroid injection?
The outbreak of invasive meningococcal disease among HIV-positive men in New York City is completely unrelated to the outbreak of meningitis in several states that is caused by a contaminated medication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are currently coordinating a multistate investigation of fungal meningitis among patients who received an epidural injection with a potentially contaminated steroid medication. Please visit the CDC’s website for more information on this: