NYCA meningitis outbreak in New York City has killed four men who have sex with men (MSM) since last year with four new cases reported this year alone.

The NYC Health Department has urged MSM, regardless of HIV status, who regularly hook up with other men through online mediums to get vaccinated against the deadly meningococcal meningitis disease.

Four new cases of meningitis among MSM have been reported since the start of January, bringing the total to 17 cases since 2012.

The department said three out of the last five reported cases were fatal.

There have been 22 reported cases among MSM including seven deaths since 2010.

Health commissioner Dr Thomas Farley said meningitis symptoms came on quickly and could be deadly if not treated right away.

“Vaccination is the best defence. I urge all men who meet these criteria – regardless of whether they identify as gay – to get vaccinated now and protect themselves from this disease before it is too late,” he said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said there was a rise of meningitis cases for HIV-positive MSM but encouraged all MSM to get vaccinated.

“While the rise in cases of the disease commonly known as meningitis is concerning, particularly for men who are HIV-positive or who have sex with men, vaccines and treatments are available,” she said.

“The Council will work to ensure that the public is educated about this disease and the increased risk so that New Yorkers are armed with the information they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

City officials announced a meningitis outbreak in Brooklyn late last year and urged any men who had hooked up with other men since September and was either HIV-positive, or HIV-negative and lived within specific areas of Brooklyn, to get vaccinated.

Meningitis can be contracted through saliva and can be shared by kissing or even drinking from the same glass.

Vaccinations can only prevent the disease but cannot treat it with symptoms occurring between two to 10 days after exposure.

Symptoms usually begin to appear five days after exposure and include high fever, headache, stiff neck, and rash that develop rapidly.

Over the past five years, there have been 200-300 overall notifications of meningitis in Australia, with 35 already cases recorded this year.

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