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Gay and bisexual men urged to vaccinate against meningococcal after Melbourne outbreak

Gay men are being urged to get vaccinated against meningococcal disease after a sudden outbreak in Melbourne.

Health authorities are offering a free vaccine from today after eight men were struck down with the disease's C-strain since May.

Victoria's deputy chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said almost all the patients identified as gay or bisexual.

"Eight doesn't sound like a big number, but if this were to affect the whole of Melbourne at the same rate as it's affected men who have sex with men, we'd be talking about a couple of hundred cases over a few months," he said.

Meningococcal disease is uncommon but it can be deadly.

Ten per cent of cases are fatal within 24 to 48 hours of diagnosis.

The bacteria lives in the throat and nose and is passed on through close and prolonged contact.

"That includes intimate kissing and we think that's what's driving transmission in this outbreak," Dr Sutton said.

Patients in the high-risk group who come down with a high fever, headache and light sensitivity should see their doctor or go to hospital.

Men can get the vaccine from their local GP as of today.

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