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NYC Warns Of 'Absolutely Terrifying' Meningitis Outbreak, Urges Vaccination Among Gay Men

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The New York City Department of Health has issued a new vaccination recommendation for men at risk of contracting a serious and potentially deadly strain of meningitis.

The outbreak of meningitis among gay men has sickened four people already this year, increasing the number of cases to 17 since 2012, according to city health officials. Seven fatalities have been reported in the city since 2010.

"Once you get infected the time from being infected to being horribly sick and possibly dying is very short," Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Jay Varma told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman on Wednesday. "We've had several cases who have been actually found dead in their apartment before they'd even gone to see a medical provider. So that is, to us, absolutely terrifying."

The original Health Department warning was issued for HIV-positive men.

City Warns Of 'Absolutely Terrifying' Meningitis Outbreak, Urges Vaccination Among Gay Men

But now the city says all men who are intimate with other men they've met on a website or an app or at a bar or a party need to get vaccinated now.

"We think that people who are in these risk groups should be taking this very, very seriously," said Varma. "Probably all of us have people that fall potentially within this risk group."

"Vaccination is the best defense. I urge all men who meet these criteria – regardless of whether they're identify as gay – to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late," added Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

Symptoms of meningitis are: high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash that develop rapidly upon onset, according to the health department. Symptoms may appear two to 10 days after exposure, but usually within five days. Anyone experiencing these symptoms are advised to seek immediate medical care.

Men who meet the vaccination criteria are urged to get the shot from their health care provider. Health Department clinics are also offering the meningitis vaccine to those who who cannot get the shot from a doctor.

Find a city health clinic through the Health Department's Site Locator.

For more information about the vaccination recommendation, click here.

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