West Hollywood Lawyer's Meningitis Death Concerns Los Angeles Gay Community

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com April 13 2013 5:45 PM ET

Brett Shaad, a 33-year-old gay lawyer from West Hollywood, Calif., died Saturday evening, after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis on Wednesday, the man's family told Huffington Post

Brian Shaad released this statement on Saturday evening: "Tonight our family made the incredibly difficult decision to remove my brother Brett from life support," Shaad said. "He died peacefully surrounded by our family and friends. Brett was an extraordinary person. He was a loving son, brother and grandson, an attorney with a deep passion for social justice, and a dear friend to so many people. We cannot believe that this wonderful person is gone. We love you Brett."

Shaad was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis on Wednesday at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, Calif., fell into a coma on Thursday, and was declared brain dead on Friday. He was removed from life support at 6:24 p.m. on Saturday, and died at 6:42 p.m., reports Huffington Post.

Shaad's sudden death has sparked fears about an outbreak of the deadly infection among WeHo's tightly-knit LGBT community, though county health officials insist there is no need to panic.

In response to community concerns, the AIDS Health Foundation announced Sunday that it will provide free meningitis vaccines to gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men at several of its Los Angeles locations. People with HIV, or anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to meningitis, can get vaccinated at no cost at three of AHF's Los Angeles locations beginning Monday, April 15. Find additional information, including addresses for each clinic, here

Friends say Brett Shaad was a friendly and well-liked prominent member of the West Hollywood community, a neighborhood in Los Angeles heavily populated by LGBT people, nightclubs, and bars. Shaad was reportedly healthy until he was suddenly struck with bacterial meningitis, according to a report from Frontiers L.A.'s Karen Ocamb. 

"Last weekend I was with him at a local restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard,” Ocamb reports West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran saying at a news conference about the meningitis scare on Friday. "He was tall and muscular, robust, looking as fit as a fiddle, and we [were] notified on Wednesday he was at Cedars [Sinai Medical Hospital in L.A.] and then yesterday, he was in a coma.”

Ocamb notes that for Duran and others in the community who are HIV-positive, Shaad's sudden, severe infection is all too reminiscent of the onset of the AIDS crisis 30 years ago, when friends and lovers suddenly began dying from an as-yet-unidentified "influenza."

Bacterial meningitis is usually severe, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can cause brain damage, hearing loss, and death. The disease is spread by prolonged close contact — like kissing or sex — as well as sharing eating utensils, a drinking glass, or a cigarette with another person infected with meningitis. The CDC notes that meningitis cannot be spread by simply breathing the same air as another person with the disease. However, people with HIV do have a greater risk of acquiring invasive meningococcal disease, which can become fatal if not properly treated.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, stiff neck, increased sensitivity to light, and confusion, according to the CDC. Symptoms often appear quickly, but can also develop within 3-7 days after exposure.

Antibiotics can treat meningitis, but they are most effective when started as close to the time of infection as possible. Prompt treatment with antibiotics can lower the risk of death from bacterial meningitis to roughly 15%, according to the CDC. 

That's why city councilmember Duran is urging anyone who believes they may have been exposed to contact a medical professional immediately, and take precautions to get vaccinated.

“Here, in the City of West Hollywood, we obviously have a very large number of gay men in our city and our community," Duran said. "We’re very concerned that two weeks ago, the White Party gathered about 10,000 gay men in the city of Palm Springs – including [gay men] from New York.”

Last year, New York City health officials advised HIV-positive gay men and other men who have sex with men to be vaccinated after 22 cases of bacterial meningitis were reported in the city since 2010. Seven of those infected patients died. 

"At this point, we cannot confirm or we don’t know whether this case is related to the cases in New York City. Last year in L.A. County, we had about 13 cases of meningococcal disease and we are currently not having an outbreak in L.A. County," said county public health department area director Dr. Maxine Liggins at Friday's news conference. "Currently our procedure is that we give antibiotics — what’s need[ed] if you’ve had contact with someone who has meningitis. If have you any symptoms, we encourage you to see your medical provider immediately and not just attribute these symptoms to a flu or some other illness."

Find more information here.