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Small Outbreak of Serious Disease Identified

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) urges sexually active men who have sex with men (MSM) living with HIV, as well as MSM who have anonymous sex partners or use ‘hook up’ apps to identify sexual partners, to get vaccinated to prevent invasive meningococcal disease (IMD).

CDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently identified a small outbreak of the rare but severe infection among MSM in Chicago. IMD can be deadly if left untreated. Since IMD was reported, CDPH has been closely monitoring each case, has determined that the outbreak is isolated to a specific subpopulation, and is working with community partners to spread the word and make vaccines available to target groups to protect the health of all of Chicago residents.

CDPH recommends that MSM who are HIV-positive and MSM who have anonymous sex partners contact their doctors or pharmacists to request the vaccine, which will protect them from infection. The vaccine is safe and effective. The vaccine is also available at no cost at CDPH clinics and partner sites, where co-pays may apply.

“Meningococcal disease is very serious but preventable,” said CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD.“Vaccines are available and we urge anyone who may be at risk to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.”

Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis. These illnesses include bloodstream infections and meningitis. Meningococcal disease 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 or your partner experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Though less contagious than a common cold, the disease spreads through prolonged, close contact with saliva that can include intimate kissing, sexual contact, sharing drinks, or sharing marijuana and cigarettes. If you are a sexually active MSM in Chicago who is living with HIV or if you have had intimate or sexual contact with other men, particularly after using social “hook-up” apps to find them, you may be at risk for the disease. If you meet the above criteria, see your doctor or pharmacist to request a vaccine. If you are uninsured, visit or call 311 to find a CDPH clinic or partner site.

In addition to receiving the vaccination, you can also protect yourself from the disease by frequent handwashing, refraining from sharing drinks or smoking devices, and by practicing safe sex. As part of its efforts to educate and inform the public, CDPH has provided education materials to medical providers across Chicago and is working with local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations to ensure the community has access to information. CDPH has contacted family members and close friends of infected individuals to provide preventative antibiotics and also set up a phone bank for healthcare providers to answer questions regarding vaccine distribution. For more information on how to protect yourself, download a CDPH fact sheet or palm card available at