ABC News: Fungal Meningitis Outbreak From Tainted Injections. Several Deaths!

Meningitis Outbreak10-05-2012 ABC News has been reporting on this health alert through Good Morning American and ABC World News programs.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reports of an outbreak of fungal meningitis caused by contaminated steroid injections for back pain treatments.  So far, there has been reported 47 cases in seven states with five deaths! The source of contamination has been traced back to a pharmacy in Massachusetts,  The New England Compounding Center, which has since closed down its operations. But the CDC is still worried that the outbreak may spread because more than 17,000 vials of this medication was shipped to 75 clinics in 23 different states!

10-10-2012 Update – ABC News  reports 12 deaths, 119 cases in 10 states.

ABC’s Chief Health Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser,  says that as doctors contact patients who have had these injections, they are going to find people that have come down with meningitis and don’t realize it.

Dr. Besser explains this type of meningitis is not contagious. It is different from the types that we have heard about that have spread on college campuses and is very rapidly deadly.  This type is caused by a fungus, a mold, that we are all exposed to. It usually only causes problems in people with immune problems.  But in the case of this contaminated treatment, the fungus is injected directly into the spine and goes up into the brain which then causes inflammation.  And here is where in some people it can actually cause a stroke.

The symptoms to look for are:

  • stiff neck (not always present in this type of meningitis)
  • A fever (not always in this type of meningitis)
  • a worsening headache
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • slurred speech (sign of a stroke)

Since symptoms can take anywhere from one week to one month to develop, The CDC advises if you have had a steroid injection treatment for back pain since July, call your doctor to see if your medication was part of the recalled injections. “Early anti-fungal treatment can improve the outcome of these patients” is the statement by Dr. Benjamin Park of the CDC.

How can this type of contamination happen?

Dr. Besser explains that there are more than 7500 compounding pharmacies in the country according to The International Academy of Compounding Pharmacies.  They make 1% to 3% of all prescription drugs.  And they can be lifesavers, by custom mixing their treatments for patients with special medical needs.  But they operate with little federal oversight.

Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, says this sort of contamination from a compounding pharmacy has happened before. He says these pharmacies are not under the rigorous, regular supervision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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