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The Minnesota Department of Health is urging gay men and other men who have sex with men to get vaccinated against a form of bacterial meningitis after the death of a man last week.

According to a press release by MDH on Friday, a man in his 40s died in mid-July and was found to be infected with serogroup C Neisseria meningitidis. In some people, the bacteria causes rapid inflammation of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord. For those affected, the bacteria causes death in 10 percent of cases.

“We believe that the MSM community in Minnesota may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at the MDH. “We want to try to head off the possibility of an outbreak occurring here, so we strongly encourage all MSM, especially those who are HIV-positive, to go get vaccinated.”

MDH is advising men who have sex with men, especially those at highest risk including those living with HIV and those “who regularly have close or intimate sexual contact with men met through an online website, digital application (“app”), or at a bar or party.”

According to MDH, “N. meningitidis is transmitted through close personal contact and can be spread from person to person in small droplets of saliva or nasal secretions. Those who have it can spread it through kissing, drinking directly from the same container, sharing smoking materials, or through other contact with secretions of the nose and throat. It cannot be spread simply through casual contact or being in the same room with someone who may be infected. Those who are HIV-infected may be at higher risk for severe disease and death from N. meningitidis.

MDH has put together a website with information about the bacteria, and where to get vaccinated.

Though not specifically confined to gay and bisexual men, Neisseria meningitidis outbreaks have been seen in the community in West Hollywood, New York, and San Francisco over the last few years. Seven cases have been reported among gay and bisexual men in Chicago in recent months, with one death reported.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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