Meningitis Outbreak Likely To Continue
October 4, 2012

Contaminated Drug Blamed For Meningitis, Outbreaks Likely To Continue

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Health officials are warning that an outbreak of a rare form of meningitis that has taken four lives will likely continue to grow.

So far, 26 people in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Maryland have been sickened by the outbreak, all of which received steroid injections.

The outbreak has been linked to spinal injections for back pain. The drug was contaminated with a fungus, Aspergillus, and was shipped to 23 states, according to a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The drug was produced by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. Doctors are urging those who have had the treatment within the past few months to see a doctor if they develop symptoms like headaches, fever, nausea, difficulty with balance or slurred speech.

The outbreak is raising concerns about the safety of back pain treatment because injecting that part of the body can give germs a direct route to the brain.

Also, pharmacies are falling under scrutiny for preparing drug mixtures and solutions that are not routinely available from major manufacturers.

Erica Jefferson, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told the New York Times that the New England pharmacy voluntarily recalled three lots of the drug after it was alerted of the problem.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told the Associated Press that more new cases are certain to start appearing in the coming days.

Tennessee health official Dr. David Reagan said some of the patients infected with the virus are doing well, while others are very seriously ill and may die. Tennessee received 2,000 doses of the contaminated medicine and has seen the most infections so far.

The incubation period for meningitis is anywhere from two to 28 days, according to health officials. Tennessee officials are contacting over 900 people who received the steroid in the past three months.

The outbreak was first discovered two weeks ago when Dr. April Pettit of Vanderbilt University started treating a patient who was not doing well for unknown reasons.

Once the lab found the fungus in the patient's spinal fluid, Pettit found that the patient recently had steroid injections in his spine.

Dr. Robert H. Latham, an infectious diseases specialist at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, told the Associated Press that some of the infected patients would need six months to a year of treatment in order to get rid of the infection.