Breaking News: Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

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The fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated injectable steroids continues to spread. Here are the latest facts, as of October 11, 2012:

  • As of this morning, there have been 137 cases identified, and 12 deaths.
  • It’s estimated that as many as 13,000 people have received the potentially contaminated steroid injections. Thus, we expect to see more cases of meningitis.
  • Cases of fungal meningitis have now presented  in 10 states; New Jersey is the most recent.
  • The earliest (and most) cases occurred in Tennessee. That state has expanded its initial warning to patients, now urging anyone with possible exposure (i.e. patients who received epidural injections from one of the contaminated lots) to seek immediate care for meningitis-like symptoms that occur for up to 3 months after the injection.
  • A 2nd fungus (Aspergillus was the first) has been identified in the contaminated vials. This new organism is Exserohilum. Unfamiliar to most of us, Exserohilum is a common environmental inhabitant but rarely a human pathogen.
  • Emergency rooms have reported a dramatic surge in the number of patients concerned about possible exposure, despite widespread reassurance that fungal meningitis does not spread from person-to-person. We would like to take this opportunity to reinforce that only people who have received an epidural injection of methylprednisolone for back pain are at risk. If you are in that category and are experiencing symptoms, see your primary care provider or go to an emergency room immediately.
  • The compounding pharmacy responsible for the outbreak, New England Compounding Center, has closed, surrendered its state license, and recalled all of its products.
  • Legislation will be introduced at the federal level to empower the FDA to inspect, maintain, and assess the safety and efficacy of compounding pharmacies. At present, about 10% of pharmaceuticals come from compounding pharmacies, which are not required to submit to FDA oversight, but are overseen by state health pharmacy boards.

What Are the Symptoms of Meningitis?

Symptoms of meningitis may appear within days to several weeks of the injections. They may include headache, rash, stiff neck, and/or fever. Some of those affected have also presented with stroke-like symptoms, such as slurred speech or weakness in one extremity.

Editor’s Note: Please read our original coverage of Meningitis in the News for more information.

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