More Than 5,000 Get Shots In Chicago Gay Meningitis Outbreak

Tue. October 21, 2003 12:00 AM by

Chicago, IL - Gay and bisexual men are lining up at five emergency locations in the Chicago's gay North Side community to receive free meningitis shots.

The mass immunization was ordered after three people died and three others were hospitalized with the disease. As first reported by on the weekend the outbreak has been traced to area gay clubs. (story)

By mid afternoon Tuesday the health department had vaccinated 5,000 gay and bi men. Vaccinations will be offered at least until Saturday.

“What we’re seeing thus far is the model mobilization of a community to help protect the public health,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner John Wilhelm, M.D.

Bacterial meningitis can kill quickly if not treated with antibiotics. Symptoms include sudden fever, severe headache and sometimes nausea and vomiting. Meningitis can result in brain damage, hearing loss and learning disability.

The disease is spread in any of several ways: through sexual contact, by kissing, or in sharing things that have been in the mouth or nose of an infected person such as drug paraphernalia.

“Our vaccination services and our message of prevention have found a receptive audience," Wilhelm said. "All of us at the Health Department are most grateful to the North Side business community, social service agencies, houses of worship, LGBT advocacy groups, elected officials, news media outlets and others who are playing such a key role in this important public health initiative.”

More than 100 Health Department employees are giving shots at five sites. To minimize wait times, there were as many as six vaccination lines at each site during peak times. Men generally did not have to wait longer than 15 minutes, health officials said.

The vaccine consists of a single shot in the arm. Usually, the only side effect is possible mild soreness. It takes a week to 10 days to build immunity. People who are allergic to latex or thimerosal or have had a past reaction to the vaccine should not get the shot.

There have been no new cases reported this week, but, the health department said that does not necessarily mean the outbreak is contained.

CDPH is working closely with infectious disease officials at all city hospitals to ensure quick reporting of all suspected cases of meningitis, Wilhelm said.

In mounting a mass immunization campaign on short notice, the city put into effect parts of its plan to immunize the public in the event terrorists released smallpox.

by Steph Smith Newscenter
Chicago Bureau
©® 2003

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.