Gay men warned to be careful after meningococcal outbreak in Australian city

To combat an outbreak of meningococcal disease among men who have sex with men (MSM), the a state government in Australia is giving out free vaccines to MSM.

The outbreak started in May this year in the southern state of Victoria where eight people were diagnosed and almost all of who were MSM.

A free, time-limited vaccine program for all gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in Victoria will begin next week to combat a recent outbreak of Meningococcal C disease.

Victoria’s deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, said the free vaccine will be available from 11 December until 30 June next year.

‘Since May 2017 there has been an outbreak of meningococcal C infection, with eight cases identified across Melbourne, almost all in men who have sex with men (MSM) MSM, with evidence of local transmission,’ Sutton said.

‘MSM receiving the vaccine will be protected against the C strain of the disease, as well as three other strains – A, W and Y – which are also on the rise in Victoria.’

Symptoms and treatment

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognized and treated in time.

Although the majority of victims will recover fully, 10% of those infected will die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities. Those disabilities range from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts.

It is critical to go to hospital immediately if you believe you may have meningococcal disease.

The disease is spread through bacteria in the mucus from the back of the nose and throat. This generally requires close and prolonged contact with a person carrying the bacteria. An example of ‘close and prolonged contact’ is living in the same household or deep kissing.

HIV+ people at greater risk

‘It is important that all MSM are protected against this disease, however HIV positive MSM in Victoria are particularly at risk of contracting this disease and should seriously consider taking up the offer of the free vaccination,’ Sutton said.

‘My message to this group in the community is simple: If you are vaccinated, you protect yourself and others around you by reducing the spread of the disease.’

All MSM, regardless of HIV status, especially those who regularly have close or intimate contact with other men met should get protected against this potentially deadly disease.

Those in relationships or meeting online or through apps, bars, clubs or parties are all at risk.

It is important that MSM be aware of the symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek medical attention immediately if they feel unwell.

The free vaccine will be available to eligible MSM through general practice (GP) clinics and other registered immunisation providers.

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