White Party Warning: Meningitis death prompts health warning

33-year-old Brett Shaad declared brain dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Palm Springs, Calif. - The city of West Hollywood issued a strong warning about a potentially deadly outbreak of meningococcal disease during a news conference Friday.

The public health warning was made after L.A. County Department of Public Health officials announced a 33-year-old West Hollywood man contracted the illness. A family spokesman said Brett Shaad was declared brain-dead Friday afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  He died later that day. This comes two weeks after he attended the White Party in Palm Springs.

"It's alarming. It's confusing and alarming," said Bryan Gallyot, owner of Skylark Hotel in Palm Springs. 

West Hollywood Councilman John Duran held a news conference Friday warning of the potentially deadly health threat because Shaad's case was detected in Los Angeles County. The concern surrounding the disease escalated when local public health officials realized the West Hollywood case could possibly be linked to a meningitis outbreak in New York.

"We're very concerned that two weeks ago the White Party in Palm Springs gathered about 8,000 to 10,000 gay men in the city of Palm Springs including from New York," said Duran. "This particular resident was in attendance at the White Party."

"We don't want to create panic in the community, but at the same time, we want to alert people that this exists and to be on the lookout for these particular symptoms and to see a physician if you exhibit any of these symptoms," said Duran.

Jeffrey Sanker, Founder of the White Party issued this statement to KESQ Saturday afternoon.  

"We all need to put this into perspective. The World Health Organization list scores of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, the Ebola virus, SARS and so many more.  There has never been a case of meningitis  reported at the WPPS.  From what we all know to date, the origin of this case is inconclusive; nonetheless like many large gatherings  gay or straight,  people are often in close intimate contact with each other.  

Therefore, we make the safety and security of our guests  the top priority every year. And we have always been very proactive in distributing literature for the health of our patrons so everyone can be educated and informed.  

I personally know Brett, a wonderful man and a beacon of sunshine. Of course my heart goes out to the parents and siblings as we have always regarded all our party participants as extended family.  Politicians  also have a responsibility to know the facts before creating panic in the community. And before speaking out and drawing theoretically conclusions, they should take note of the statement made by Brett's brother Brian Shaad as reported in other media:  ‘Shaad's brother Brian Shaad criticized some of Duran's statements as inaccurate. "Brett remains on life support in the hospital. No conclusions have been drawn regarding when, or how, he may have contracted meningitis. We ask for privacy during this incredibly painful period," he said in a statement sent by email early Saturday'

-         Via email from Jeffrey Sanker WPPS Founder.

The illness is spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions like spit and can cause meningitis and bloodstream infections. It tends to spread in areas where larger groups of people gather or live in close quarters like college dorms.

"These festivals Coachella, the White Party, there are germs everywhere. It's about just taking care of yourself first and hoping that trickles over," said Gallyot.

According to Dr. Maxine Liggins, symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck. Patients suffering from the disease may also feel nauseous, an increased sensitivity to light, and an altered mental status such as confusion.

Meningococcal disease is fatal in about 10 percent of cases, but is preventable with a vaccination. Since 2010, the disease has infected 22 people, killing seven.

"This particular strain, if there is no intervention, there is a possibility of severe brain damage and possibly being fatal," said Duran.

People with weakened immune systems such as those living with HIV/AIDS are at an increased risk.

"We learned 30 years ago the consequences of delay in the response to AIDS," said Duran. "We are sounding the alarm that sexually active gay men need to be aware that we have a strain of meningitis that is deadly on our hands."

Vaccinations are not being widely recommended in Los Angeles County. But community agencies such as the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center are urging individuals to take precautions.

The Desert Aids Project has the meningitis vaccine on hand. It stocked up after a deadly outbreak in New York in 2010.

"We took the step to buy the vaccine for anyone who needed it," said Barry Dayton, the Director of Marketing for the Desert Aids Project.

Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion and increased sensitivity to light.

Contact your health physician if you believe you may have symptoms for meningitis. For questions about the vaccine, call the Desert Aids Project at 760-323-2118.

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