Meningitis Not 'a Gay Disease'

Published: April 15, 2013

Before 1913, bacterial meningitis was nearly 100 percent fatal. Now that rate is around 16 percent in the U.S. Not more than a few hundred people in the country are diagnosed with bacterial meningitis every year, and most who die from it are older. It made national news this weekend when 33-year-old lawyer Brett Shaad died, though. He reportedly began to feel sick last Monday, was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis on Wednesday, and was pronounced brain dead by Friday.

 On the occasion of Shaad’s passing, after reportedly tweeting prematurely that Shaad had died, West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran spoke at a press conference held by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Not every death from meningitis commands a press conference, but in this case it fed preexisting concerns.

This year’s White Party, the "largest gay dance music festival in the world," brought about 30,000 people to Palm Springs on March 29. Shaad was apparently among them. About a week later, he got sick, and some believe that’s where he contracted the infection. So Duran issued a warning, "We want to get the word out to any gay men that were at the White Party, that if they have any of these symptoms, go see their physician immediately."

In the context of a recent outbreak of deadly meningitis among gay men in New York City — at least 22 cases since 2010 with seven fatalities — there is growing talk of associations and misunderstandings about how the disease spreads.

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