Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Traced to Medicines from New England Pharmacy

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dpk-meningitis-exserohilum.jpgAn outbreak of fungal meningitis has sickened more than three hundred people nationwide, and it is believed to be responsible for at least twenty-four deaths. Connecticut has avoided any illnesses so far. Steroid injections for back pain from a Massachusetts pharmacy are believed to be the source of the infections. The pharmacy has reportedly ceased operations and issued a voluntary recall of thousands of steroid doses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified a fungus known to cause a form of meningitis in vials of methylprednisone acetate, an anti-inflammatory steroid medication used to treat back pain, compounded at New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, Massachusetts. State and federal health officials identified the pharmacy as a possible source of the contamination in early October 2012. The FDA is warning healthcare providers to monitor any patient who received any injectable NECC medication on or after May 21, 2012. The outbreak has affected patients in at least seventeen states, with the highest number of cases in Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, and Indiana.

The particular fungus identified by the CDC, Exserohilum rostratum, is present in at least fifty-four patients. Fungal meningitis is a rare infection, and it differs from the bacterial and viral forms of meningitis. Unlike some types of the disease, fungal meningitis is not contagious between people. It commonly results from the fungus entering the bloodstream and spreading to the spinal cord, sometimes from environmental exposure like contaminated soil, or from contaminated medication. People with weakened immune systems have the greatest risk of infection. Symptoms include headache, fever, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, and nausea. It can be fatal in some cases.