Health officials in Chicago are warning gay and bisexual men in the city's north side of an outbreak of deadly meningococcal disease, commonly called meningitis, that has killed three men and is suspected in three others, one of whom is hospitalized in critical condition, the Chicago Tribune reports. John Wilhelm, commissioner of the city's health department, says the cases appear to be linked to gay and bisexual men who've had contact in the city's north side during the first two weeks of the month. No specific venue or setting has been identified as the sole focus of the outbreak. Health officials distributed information about the disease over the weekend at businesses frequented by gay and bisexual men in the North Side of the city. The health department also is offering free inoculations against meningitis to gay men in the city's north side to prevent the disease's spread. Health officials ordered 7,500 doses of the vaccine.
Cases of meningococcal disease are usually sporadic and isolated in the city, making this outbreak unusual, health officials say. Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can be deadly if not treated quickly. The bacteria are spread through physical contact, including kissing, sex, or sharing drinks, cigarettes, or drug paraphernalia. Sneezing and coughing also can transmit the bacteria. Symptoms include a sudden fever, headaches, a stiff neck, rash, and nausea. "It's important, if people have a sudden onset of a severe illness, that they seek medical attention right away and not wait around and hope that it gets better," William Paul, deputy public health commissioner, told the Tribune.