Hundreds seen at risk in meningitis outbreak
BY Associated Press
Friday, October 05, 2012
10/05/12 at 5:31 AM
The potential scope of a meningitis outbreak that has killed at least five people widened dramatically Thursday as health officials warned that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of patients who received steroid back injections in 23 states could be at risk.
Clinics and medical centers rushed to contact patients who might have received the apparently fungus-contaminated shots. And the Food and Drug Administration urged doctors not to use any products at all from the Massachusetts pharmacy that supplied the suspect steroid solution.
It is not clear how many patients received tainted injections, or even whether everyone who received one will get sick.
So far, 35 people in six states - Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana - have contracted fungal meningitis, and five of them have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All had received steroid shots for back pain.
In an alarming indication that the outbreak could get a lot bigger, Massachusetts health officials said the pharmacy involved, the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, has recalled three lots consisting of a total of 17,676 single-dose vials of the steroid, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate.
An unknown number of those vials reached 75 clinics and other facilities in 23 states between July and September, federal officials said. Several hundred of the vials, maybe more, have been returned unused, one official said.
But many other vials were used. At one clinic in Evansville, Ind., more than 500 patients received shots from the suspect lots, officials said. At two clinics in Tennessee, more than 900 patients did.
The investigation began about two weeks ago after a case was diagnosed in Tennessee. The time from infection to onset of symptoms is a few days to a month, so the number of people stricken could rise.
The type of meningitis involved is not contagious. It is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold and is treated with high-dose antifungal medications.
The New England company is a compounding pharmacy. Such pharmacies custom-mix solutions, creams and other medications in doses or in forms that generally aren't commercially available.
A national shortage of many drugs has forced doctors to seek alternatives from compounding pharmacies. The steroid suspected in the outbreak has been in short supply.
Original Print Headline: Meningitis outbreak could grow
A meningitis outbreak may have started with a steroid manufactured by the New England Compounding Center. Stephan Savoia/AP