(UPDATE: AIDS Healthcare Foundation to offer vaccines on Monday. See below) While there is no mention made on the current agenda,West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran is expected to present an emergency item at Monday night’s City Council meeting to give the LA Gay & Lesbian Center $20,000 to buy vaccine for those who might be concerned about being exposed to meningitis. The city issued a public health alert about the contagious disease after WeHo resident Brett Shaad was diagnosed with a deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis at Cedars Sinai on Wednesday, fell into a coma on Thursday and was declared brain dead on Friday. Duran held a news conference to broaden the scope of the alert after finding out that Shaad had attended the White Party in Palm Springs.
Symptoms of meningitis include a sudden fever, headaches, a stiff neck, vomiting, nausea, mental confusion and sometimes a rash. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is imperative to see a medical professional immediately to get tested and not assume you are merely coming down with the flu or a cold. People with HIV or others with a compromised immune system are especially at risk. If you have not been tested for HIV, this might be a good time to do that since the vaccine dosage for people with HIV/AIDS is different from that administered to people without HIV. The bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics, if caught early. Symptoms start to show up between three to seven days after exposure.
Prevention measures include good hygiene – such as regularly washing your hands with soap and water and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing. Avoid any exchange of fluids such as through wet kissing and sharing drinks, utensils and cigarettes and avoid close contact, especially in crowded spaces.
There is also a vaccine available for those who think they might be at risk before exposure. John Aravosis at AmericaBlog has a very good piece looking at whether or not to get vaccinated, which, though based on the cases in New York City, still holds true for LA. The Center also has a Fact Sheet for quick answers to a number of questions.
Additionally, the Center also has information about the vaccine, which they will start making available in limited supplies on Monday:
There is a vaccine which is available at local hospitals, medical clinics and some pharmacies. Check with your primary health care provider to find out if you should be vaccinated and if your insurance covers the cost. Vaccinces are between $120 and $150 without insurance and can be administered at local walk-in clinics like CVS’s Minute Clinics.
The Center is calling on the L.A. County Department of Public Health to make supplies available to other community clinics so that gay and bisexual men who want to be protected, and who don’t have the insurance or the means to pay for the vaccine, can be vaccinated. People with HIV require different doses of the vaccine, so they should disclose their status to their medical provider…..
The Center expects to have a very limited supply of vaccines by Monday afternoon. Those who have insurance and want the vaccine are encouraged to get it through their regular medical provider. If you’re uninsured and feel the need to be vaccinated, and can’t afford the out-of-pocket cost at a Minute Clinic or other facility, vaccinations will be available on a walk-in basis at the Center’s The Spot in West Hollywood starting at 2 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Monday. We anticipate offering appointments for vaccination starting Tuesday morning at the Center’s medical clinic on the third floor of our McDonad/Wright building in Hollywood. Call 323-993-7500 to schedule an appointment.
AHF to offer FREE MENINGITIS VACCINES in response to deadly meningitis cases among men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM)—starting Monday, April 15th - LOCATIONS for AHF’s FREE meningitis vaccinations:
- AHF Pharmacy/West Hollywood
8212 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA , 90046
Phone: P: (323) 654-0907 Hours: M-Sat 10am to 7pm, Sun
- AHF Pharmacy/Sunset (Hollywood)
6210 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA , 90028
Phone: P: (323) 860-0173 Hours: M-Sat 10am to 7pm, Sun
- AHF Hollywood Men’s Wellness Center
1300 N. Vermont Ave., Suite 407, Los Angeles, CA , 90027
Phone: P: (866) 339-2525
Hours: Mon-Wed-Thu-Fri, 5:30pm to 9:00pm – Saturday, 9:30am – 5:00pm
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT AHF’s MENINGITIS VACCINE PROGRAM, PLEASE CALL:
- Michael Zimmerman, Program Manager, AHF Hollywood Men’s Wellness Program
- (323) 436-8900 x 5819
- AHF Main Switchboard (323) 860-5200
On another note on a very delicate subject. There has been some confusion about when Brett Shaad died, which has become an issue among some of Brett’s friends and family. First of all, Duran did not say during Friday’s news conference that Brett had died. He said he had been declared brain dead and was expected to be taken off life support later that night. By the time I had finished transcribing the news conference and started writing the story, I receive word at 4:47pm that Brett had passed away, which is how I started my story. The LA Times later confirmed that: “Brett Shaad was pronounced dead at about 3:40 p.m. Friday, said Dana Been, a coroner’s investigator.”
However, Brett’s family refuted that, telling the Huffington Post and a number of other media outlets that Brett “was removed from life support at 6:24 p.m. and died at 6:42 p.m. [Saturday night] at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Beverly Hills, Calif.”
The Huffington Post also reported that Brett’s brother Brian Shaad released this statement:
“Tonight our family made the incredibly difficult decision to remove my brother Brett from life support. He died peacefully surrounded by our family and friends.”
“Brett was an extraordinary person,” Brian Shaad continued. “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.”
The Huffington Post also said the family
“has criticized Duran’s statements about Brett Shaad, especially when Duran mistakenly released a message Friday that he had been taken off life support.
A spokeswoman for the Shaad family alluded to the misinformation in a statement that came with the announcement of Brett Shaad’s death.
“The Shaad family asks for privacy at this painful time, which has been made more devastating by irresponsible and inaccurate reports on the circumstances of Brett’s death,” wrote the rep. “The family wants, and will pursue, answers for how and why this happened.”
This is obviously going to be an important and ongoing story for the LGBT community in LA – but I would like to pause here for a moment and offer a personal opinion about this terrible situation.
First of all, my heart goes out to Brett’s family and friends over this shocking loss, made all the more horrific because it was so sudden and unexpected. Facebook is filled with this anguish. And as so many of us also learned during the height of the AIDS crisis, anger is a difficult part of the grieving process.
Bearing that in mind, I understand how the family might be upset. But if by “irresponsible and inaccurate reports on the circumstances of Brett’s death,” they are referring to the news that he was at the White Party, I’d like to respond to that.
First, in addition to Duran, there were two medical professionals for the LA Gay & Lesbian Center and Dr. Maxine Liggins from the LA County Department of Public Health, who was accompanied by two other people from Public Health, at the news conference. Liggins said the case was under investigation – but not one of the professional people who addressed the media during or after the news conference disputed the oft-repeated statement that Brett had been at the White Party. Presumably, how that became known is part of the investigation and – given the fact that the White Party is attended by up to 10,000 people who fly in from all over – that is one of the reasons WeHo city and county officials felt it was necessary to hold a news conference to get the word out beyond the city’s public health alert. There is also the question of whether this deadly bacterial infection is the same as the strain in New York City – which is not yet known.
Second, while both New York City and Los Angeles are addressing contagious meningitis in the gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men communities – meningitis is not a “gay disease.” In fact, as Dr. Liggins said at the news conference, LA had 13 cases of meningitis last year, though she did not say among what population or what happened to them. I learned that there was an alert sent within the Public Health Department about meningitis among the homeless in downtown LA – not a population well known to be gay.
Third, some people with whom I spoke off the record were concerned that by mentioning the White Party, the straight community is automatically going to think “ugly, disgusting” gay sex. However, if a straight person came down with meningitis after attending a Mardi Gras – which is even wilder and more diverse than the White Party – no one would automatically link the illness with sexuality. There is nothing shameful about a gay person getting sick at the White Party – that’s old homophobic thinking.
Fourth, there was an issue over whether or not to publicly release Brett’s name. Duran explicitly did not say Brett’s name during the news conference. In fact, he said they were not releasing his name at that time because not all the family had been notified. However, Brett’s name was all over the Internet – Facebook, in particular, as well as being circulated by his friends via email. This was not unexpected after the Equinox Gym ask the Public Health Department if they had cause to worry (they do not) and word got out that way. Additionally – and simply – Brett was very popular and his friends, his “family of choice” as we used to say in the old days, wanted to know if he was the one everyone was talking about.
The gay community has struggled with this issue before during the AIDS crisis – when the family of origin demanded medical privacy for their sick gay son and the family of choice wanted to know so we could be at the bedside or send well wishes and prayer for our loved one in the hospital. It’s sometimes difficult for the family of origin to realize that the family of choice is devastated, too, and being shut out or shut up or dismissed exacerbates that anguish.
Fifth, though Public Health says they are investigating and reaching out to and treating those with whom Brett might have come into contact – the White Party was from March 29-March 31 and there were a lot of folks with whom Brett might have come into contact between then and April 10 when he went to Cedars. How would they know to get checked if Brett’s face and name were not made public?
As Duran and the medical professionals said during the news conference, this is one case and there is no need to panic. But for those of us with AIDS crisis PTSD, it does raise a bright red flag and we need to sound the alarm, especially since the Public Health Department feels no need to issue a public health alert. We LGBT people love to love, we love to kiss and hug and throw our arms around each other all the time – so our very love for each other makes us more susceptible to this contagious disease.
But now that we know, now that we’ve been scared into action and are on alert, we can protect ourselves and each other and still smartly go on with our lives and have fun and hug and party – but safely – really safely because meningococcal meningitis is no joke!