- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Efforts to stop a deadly meningitis outbreak in Chicago will gather speed and urgency this weekend during the city’s annual gay pride celebration.

Following six confirmed cases among gay and bisexual men, including one death, the Chicago Department of Public Health is expanding its campaign to make free meningitis vaccine available to all men who have sex with men, said department Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita.

The opportunity to vaccinate thousands is balanced somewhat by the risk of close contact among the Pride participants, Morita said.

Sharing drinks and cigarettes, kissing and sexual contact can spread the bacteria. The vaccine doesn’t take effect immediately, Morita said, “so people need to use good judgment.”

Of the six cases since early June, five were Chicago residents and one case was in suburban DuPage County.

Chicago’s Pride Parade on Sunday is likely to be a raucous celebration of the Supreme Court ruling Friday giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide.

“The outbreak is unfortunate and it is serious. Pride is an opportunity to engage those at high risk and make the vaccine as available as possible,” Morita said. “The community is really embracing this.”

Working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the department has distributed more than 10,000 doses to its partners including Howard Brown Health Center, Near North Health Services Corporation, Cook County Health and Hospital System and Walgreens.

“There are doctor’s office options, Walgreens options and also festival options,” Morita said.

A public awareness campaign on radio stations and dating apps launched this week to encourage gay and bisexual man to talk to their doctors about getting vaccinated.

A Twitter chat Thursday answered questions. (Question: “How safe is sharing cigars with others?” Answer: “Not safe. Including sharing drinks, cigarettes, smoking devices & more.”)

In Chicago, people can dial 311 to learn where they can get the vaccine. Many locations are providing it without charge.

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