Meningitis Death Toll Climbs
October 12, 2012

Fungal Meningitis Kills 2 More, Investigation Underway

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

As more and more information comes to light regarding the recent outbreak of fungal meningitis, state and federal health officials as well as health experts debate the use of epidural steroid shots.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an additional two people have been identified as having died due to fungal meningitis connected to the steroid injections. The current death total is 14 since the outbreak was first announced in September. 11 states have been affected by the outbreak, with 170 ill due to fungal meningitis. An infection of the membranes that overlay the brain and spinal cord, meningitis causes symptoms such as fever and intense headaches.

Even though fungal meningitis cannot be passed from one person to the next, a number of deaths have been reported in various states. Some patients in Florida, Michigan, Maryland, Tennessee and Virginia who received the steroid injections for back pain have died in relation to the meningitis outbreak. Reuters reports that Florida determined a second death, while Indiana reported its first death. Idaho also reported its first case recently, the first to be seen in the western United States.

A number of U.S. health officials have focused on the Massachusetts-based New England Compound Company (NECC), an organization focused on pharmaceuticals. Authorities believe that the company may have misled U.S. regulators. The steroid injections in question were originally created to help lower back pain and act as a painkiller. It is believed that approximately 13,000 patients received the injections. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only regulates ingredients and supplies as opposed to the “compounding.”

"These compounded steroid injections (methylprednisolone acetate) being investigated as part of the outbreak were NOT approved by the agency," wrote Erica V. Jefferson, FDA spokeswoman, in an email to USA Today. "Compounded products are not reviewed by FDA for safety, efficacy, and quality prior to marketing."

In response to the outbreak, state and federal regulators are looking into the shipments of NECC to understand why the company shipped methylprednisolone acetate steroid that was free of preservatives. The vials of steroid injections were received by various healthcare facilities in a number of states.

"It does seem like the agencies, both at the state and the federal level, may have been misled by some of the information we were given," Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, told Reuters.

For patients who are discovered to have fungal meningitis, Dr. Robert H. Latham, an infectious disease specialist at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, mentioned to the Associated Press that it would take approximately six months to a year to remove the infection.