HOLLYWOOD—A recent outbreak of meningitis spurred the opening of vaccine clinics to protect against the disease.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) announced that they would be offering free vaccines for the invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) after a cluster of eight cases was discovered by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, according to a statement from the AHF. The vaccines are available at the organization’s Hollywood Men’s Wellness Center at 1300 North Vermont Avenue, Suite 407. The center is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It remains closed on Tuesdays.

“AIDS Healthcare Foundation is ready to respond immediately to this health issue, and we hope and trust that Los Angeles County will include the community as essential partners in this effort,” said Michael Weinstein, President of the AHF in the statement. “You cannot mount an effective defense against meningitis without full community participation.”

In addition, the Department of Public Health is also running free meningitis vaccine clinics of its own throughout the county until April 11, including one at the Hollywood/Wilshire Public Health Center at 5205 Melrose Avenue. The hours for this operation are Mondays through Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The various centers are in response to eight cases of the meningococcal disease appearing throughout Los Angeles County, with four of those cases involving homosexual men, according to a news release from the Department of Public Health. Of those four cases, three were found to be HIV-positive. Three from those four cases were either living in or socializing around the North and West Hollywood areas.

Because of this, the department chose to open several clinics to give at-risk men who didn’t have a primary doctor nor health insurance, a chance of preventing contraction of the illness.

The meningococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called “Neisseria meningiditis and can usually be found in the upper respiratory tract of people,” according to the Public Health Department. Some people, about one out of 10, can even go their whole lives carrying the bacteria without ever getting sick. The disease is spread through close physical contact like kissing, sharing utensils and items like forks and cigarettes and by sharing food and drink.

Symptoms of the illness include a high fever, stiff neck, confusion; low blood pressure, muscle pain and vomiting, and the disease can lead to meningitis (the swelling of the brain and spinal cord), brain damage and death.

To find out more about the disease and the various clinics offering free vaccines, residents can visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/Mening.htm or dial 211 for a listing of clinics. To inquire about the AHF’s clinics, the organization can be reached at 866-336-2525.