Meningitis outbreak among HIV-positive men reported in NYC

The Empire State Building towers over the Manhattan skyline on February 13, 2012 in New York City.
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(CBS/AP) A deadly cluster of bacterial meningitis has erupted among HIV-infected gay men in New York City. It's left one person dead in the last month and another in critical condition.

The city's health department on Thursday alerted local doctors about the outbreak. It includes a dozen cases in the last two years. But it seems to have accelerated with four cases in the last four weeks.

Of the 12 total cases, four died.

The new cases are spread across several boroughs of New York City and affect men ages 31 to 42 years old, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement.

Investigators are trying to find out how the infection spread. People the men were in close contact have been treated with antibiotics.

Bacterial meningitis can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The disease is rare, but people with HIV-weakened immune systems are more susceptible. People with HIV are also more likely to die from the infection, according to the health department.

This disease is spread by prolonged close contact with nose or throat discharges from an infected person. Examples of prolonged contact include living in the same household, or activities including kissing and sexual contact.

"The biggest challenge with this infection is once you get sick it causes illness very, very quickly," Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Dr. Jay Varma told CBS New York. "Once they develop symptoms such as fever, headache, a stiff neck or a rash, the symptoms progress very, very quickly and people can become severely ill."

The New York City Department of Health has more information on invasive meningococcal disease.