Atlanta Pride's medical director is issuing an alert to those coming to the fest this weekend of the risks of a meningitis outbreak that has been seen in Los Angeles and New York among gay and bisexual men, especially those who are HIV positive.

And while public health officials in New York recommended men attending Gay Pride in that city in June to receive a meningitis vaccination, Atlanta Pride's medical director is not recommending vaccinations for those attending Atlanta Pride this weekend.

Atlanta Pride officials issue alert of meningitis outbreak risks among gay men ahead of weekend fest

“The outbreaks seem confined to those metropolitan areas,” said Dr. Jason Schneider, medical director for the Atlanta Pride festival and an associate professor of the Emory School of Medicine, in a prepared statement.

“The experience there doesn’t necessarily translate here. No widespread vaccination program is recommended at this time. Because meningitis disease activity is at its normal low level in our community, people do not need to seek out the meningococcal vaccine before Atlanta Pride weekend,” Schneider said.

In an interview with GA Voice, Schneider said New York health officials were calling for vaccinations because they saw an increased number of meningitis cases before the city’s Pride celebration in June. In New York, many cases were linked to men using, websites, mobile phone apps or attending parties to have sex with other men.

“What’s different about New York is there was an uptick in cases before Pride. There has been no uptick in Atlanta, so no vaccinations are recommended,” Schneider said.

The Atlanta Pride alert is a way to get ahead of concerns being raised by some community leaders, Schneider said.

“A few months ago there was chatter on Facebook from community leaders about the upcoming Pride season here and what to do, so the Pride committee and I wanted to be out in front,” Schneider said.

“The bottom line is for people to know the warning signs. This has to be a concern at any time for any person,” he added.

This alert is not a “warning” said Schneider, but a request that if people feel sick they should go to their doctor and stay home. Also, people should avoid being around others who are sick.

Atlanta Pride Executive Director Buck Cooke also urged those feeling sick to see a doctor and stay home.

“We look forward to people coming to Piedmont Park and enjoying themselves. But if you’re sick, seek medical attention and then stay home. We want people attending the festival to have fun and remain healthy,” he said.

Meningitis is commonly spread through such respiratory and throat secretions, such as kissing and living in close quarters, according to the CDC.

“The New York City outbreak has been linked to parties, online websites or apps that men used to find other men for “close or intimate sexual contact.” But for more than half of the men sickened by meningitis, there was no evidence that the men had used any of these means to encounter other men, according to public health officials,” according to an NBC news story.

From the Atlanta Pride press release:

The Atlanta Pride Committee wants to reassure members and friends of the LGBTQ community — in metro Atlanta and throughout the southeast — with concerns about the risk of an outbreak of meningitis here as the annual Atlanta Pride Festival celebration approaches. Concerns stem from outbreaks of a particularly dangerous form of meningitis caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis seen in New York City and Los Angeles earlier this year. Infections were seen in gay-identified and men who have sex with men, particularly those who were HIV-positive.

As at any time, community members attending events during the festival in Atlanta should be aware of the warning signs of meningitis.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal disease are usually sudden onset of fever, headache, and stiff neck. It can start with symptoms similar to influenza (flu), and will often also cause nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, rash, and confusion. People with these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. There is a vaccine available to prevent meningococcal infection, however routine vaccination is recommended only for children between the ages of 11 and 18.

Meningitis causes the lining of the brain and spinal cord to become infected with bacteria, according to the CDC, but can also be spread through the blood stream.

From the CDC:

Meningococcus bacteria are spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit (e.g., living in close quarters, kissing). Although it can be very serious, meningococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics that prevent severe illness and reduce the spread of infection from person to person. Quick medical attention is extremely important if meningococcal disease is suspected. Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best defense against meningococcal disease. Maintaining healthy habits, like getting plenty of rest and not coming into close contact with people who are sick, can also help.

Symptoms of meningitis are:
• High fever
• Stiff neck
• Confusion
• Rash
• Bad headache
• Nausea and vomiting
• Low blood pressure
• Muscle pain all over body

How to prevent spread of meningitis:
• Don’t share utensils, food, drinks, lip balm, or cigarettes.
• Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
• Use your elbow or a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
• Limit contact with people who are sick.
• Talk to your doctor about vaccination if you think you have a higher chance of getting sick.
• If you’ve had recent close contact with a person that’s just had this kind of meningitis, contact your doctor right away to get preventative medication.

(Sources: CDC, NY Gay Men’s Health Clinic)