Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Hits NYC

By Amir Khan on September 30, 2012 7:45 AM EDT

Brain
A deadly bacterial meningitis outbreak has hit New York City, leaving one dead and another in critical condition. (Photo: REUTERS)

A deadly bacterial meningitis outbreak has hit New York City, leaving one dead and another in critical condition. The outbreak is chiefly affecting the city's gay community, and investigators are scrambling to figure out how the disease is spreading.

"Men experiencing high fever, headache, stiff neck and rash are advised to immediately contact their health care providers," the health department said in a statement.

The city's health department alerted local doctors about the outbreak on Thursday. Normally, meningitis is rare, with a dozen reported cases on the past two years. But in the past month, four cases have been reported.

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Meningitis is an infection of the brain's meninges, its membranous lining. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and stiff neck. If left untreated, the disease can cause severe brain damage and death.

"It's a form of bacterial meningitis that has a subtle onset and can progress very, very quickly," Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News. "The typical story is the college student that doesn't feel so well. He goes to bed because he thinks he has the flu, and the next morning his friends find him comatose."

Investigators are trying to find the source of the investigation, and said all men who were in close contact with the infected have been treated with antibiotics.

"People living with HIV are at a greater risk than the general population of acquiring invasive meningococcal disease and if infected, dying from infection," the health department told ABC News. "If we can find a person's face-to-face contacts, we can give them some antibiotics prophylactically."

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