Three die of meningitis outbreak in Los Angeles area

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three men in their 20s have died from a meningitis outbreak in the gay community in the Los Angeles area this year, a public health spokesman said on Thursday, a day after officials called on HIV-positive gay men in the region to be vaccinated against the disease.

One man died in February and the other two died in late March, said a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The men were all either 27 or 28 years old.

They were among eight people who have contracted invasive meningococcal disease in 2014, the Public Health Department said in a statement. That is seen as a high rate of infection for the Los Angeles area, which in recent years has seen the number of annual cases range between 12 and 37.

Four of the eight meningitis cases this year, including the three men who died, occurred in the gay community that spreads from West Hollywood to the nearby North Hollywood suburb of Los Angeles, officials said. A number of the men infected in that group were HIV positive, a condition that could make them more susceptible to infection because of their reduced immunity.

The outbreak led the county Department of Public Health on Wednesday to recommend meningitis vaccines for HIV positive gay and bisexual men, and those who are HIV positive and have sex with other men but do not consider themselves gay or bisexual.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Michael Perry