June 19, 2015

Chicago's Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita Vaccinates Alderman Tom Tunney to Bring Attention to the Meningitis Outbreak in Chicago

New recommendations for all gay and bisexual men to get vaccinated amid growing outbreak

CHICAGO – Today, Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita and Alderman Tom Tunney, LGBT Caucus Chairman, rallied together to prevent meningitis in light of new recommendations by CDPH that all men who have sex with men (MSM) get vaccinated for meningitis.  Tunney received his own vaccination at Howard Brown Health Center to encourage all gay and bisexual men in Chicago to do the same.

“The vaccination is safe and highly effective in preventing meningitis,” said Morita.  “The new recommendation follows discussions between CDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to best stop the outbreak, and we know vaccination works.”

Meningitis can be deadly if not treated.  Since the beginning of June, there have been six confirmed cases of meningitis among MSM in Illinois, with one fatality.  Five of those cases occurred among Chicago residents.  A potential seventh case is being investigated, with laboratory results pending.  Although African American MSM have been disproportionately affected by this outbreak, CDPH has expanded the recommendation to protect all at risk individuals.

“I hope others will take my lead and get vaccinated this weekend,” said LGBT Caucus Chairman Alderman Tunney.  “As part of the pride festivities, there are many city and city-partner locations where residents can get vaccinated.”

Individuals who are at risk should talk to their healthcare provider about getting vaccinated.  MSM who received the meningitis vaccine more than five years ago should get a booster shot. If they do not have a healthcare provider they can call 311 or click here for a list of vaccination locations.  

“Howard Brown Health Center is offering free vaccinations at all of our locations and we have been an integral force in helping CDPH get the word out on this dangerous but preventable disease,” said Dr. Magda Houlberg, chief clinical officer at Howard Brown Health Center.  “Since June 3, Howard Brown has vaccinated 650 people, but we recognize that collectively we have to reach more people in order to protect the health of our entire community.  If someone is experiencing symptoms, they should see a health provider immediately.”

Meningitis can cause symptoms including fever, headache and a stiff neck. Some people may experience nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and altered mental status or confusion. If you experience these symptoms, please consult a medical provider immediately. The disease spreads through prolonged, close contact with saliva that can include intimate kissing, sexual contact, sharing drinks or sharing marijuana and cigarettes. For more information on meningitis and how to protect yourself, download this CDPH fact sheet.

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