Health officials in British Columbia, Canada, have issued a health alert after documenting an outbreak of type C meningococcal meningitis among gay men in the province. Six cases of the potentially fatal disease have been identified among gay men since October. The provincial Centre for Disease Control is recommending meningococcal vaccinations for all gay men living in the area, including teenagers. Although very few people exposed to the bacteria will develop meningococcal disease, the infection can be very serious, sometimes causing brain damage or death. Gay men visiting British Columbia, particularly the city of Vancouver, should take steps to protect themselves from the bacteria, which can be transmitted through kissing and oral sex. It also is easily spread via saliva by sharing drinks, eating utensils, toothbrushes, and cigarettes. Gay men are urged to use condoms during oral sex to prevent transmission of the bacteria and to avoid sexual activities that share saliva.
Common symptoms of meningococcal infection include high fever, headache, and stiff neck, all of which can develop suddenly. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness, and discomfort when looking into bright lights. The incubation period for meningococcal disease is two to 10 days; people exposed to the bacteria who do not become ill after 10 days are no longer at risk for the infection.