A day after health officials said at least eight cases of the most dangerous form of meningitis hit Los Angeles County since January, officials reported that three men died from it.
The three men, between 27 and 28, who died, contracted meningitis through sexual contact with other men, officials said. They were HIV positive.
Half the confirmed eight cases were among gay men, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Of the remaining five, four have recovered. The condition of one is still unknown.
Invasive meningococcal disease, or IMD, is highly contagious and is the most severe form of meningitis, health officials said.
The health department came under fire when asked why officials hadn't reported that three men had died in the rash of cases this year.
"If people at home knew that these infections ended in fatalities, I think it would ramp up their interest, and perhaps urgency, of seeking out information about the disease," said Ged Kenslea, a spokesman for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Health officials said they were not hiding anything. They said they only wanted to urge gay and bisexual men to get the meningococcal vaccine regardless of HIV status, especially those who share cigarettes, marijuana or use illegal drugs, officials said.
Symptoms may include:
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Altered mental state
- Skin rash
- Severe headache
- Low blood pressure
- Aversion to bright lights
- General muscle pain
Symptoms usually occur within 5 days of the exposure, but may present as many as 10 days after exposure. The disease progresses rapidly and officials urge immediate diagnosis and treatment.
People who do not have health insurance can get free vaccinations through the health department beginning Thursday.
For a listing of clinics, call the LA County Information Line at 211 or visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/.