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Meningitis Outbreak Death Toll Rising

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 8, 2012 -- About 13,000 Americans got the contaminated steroid pain shots linked to a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis .

So far, eight people have died. There have been 105 reported cases in nine states:

  • Florida: 4 cases
  • Indiana: 11 cases
  • Maryland: 5 cases, including 1 death
  • Michigan: 21 cases, including 2 deaths
  • Minnesota: 3 cases
  • North Carolina: 2 cases
  • Ohio: 1 case
  • Tennessee: 35 cases, including 4 deaths
  • Virginia: 23 cases, including 1 death

The pharmacy that filled the contaminated syringes is the New England Compounding Center (NECC). NECC now is recalling all 2,410 drugs the company offered for sale in all 50 states. The complete list of recalled NECC drugs includes medicines such as antibiotics, nipple ointment, and eye drops. So far, no patient taking these drugs has developed a fungal infection. None of the cases of fungal meningitis has been traced to these drugs.

Seventy-five clinics in 23 states received shipments of NECC steroid shots in the three lots most closely linked to the outbreak. Most of these shots were what doctors call epidural spinal injections. It's a very common treatment for lower back pain or sciatica. NECC shipped 17,676 one-dose vials of the suspect drug. The CDC says about 13,000 doses were given to patients.

Women who get epidural pain shots during childbirth get a different kind of pain drug than the one linked to this outbreak.

Only people who received contaminated drugs are at risk in this outbreak of fungal meningitis. The infection cannot spread from one person to another.

Symptoms of Fungal Meningitis

If you suspect you may have received a dose of contaminated medicine, contact the health provider who gave it to you. Ask if the medication came from NECC. All NECC products carry the NECC logo.

Clinics that gave the suspect shots are contacting all patients to warn them to look out for symptoms.

These symptoms may be very mild. At first, most patients only feel a little worse than usual. For example, patients with back pain may feel slightly worse pain, or slightly more weakness.

The CDC warns patients who have had a spinal steroid shot since May 21, 2012, to call a doctor immediately if they have any of these symptoms:

  • New or worsening headache
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck
  • New weakness or numbness in any part of your body
  • Slurred speech
  • Increased pain, redness, or swelling at your injection site

Treatment of fungal meningitis is complicated. Antifungal drugs must be given intravenously, usually in the hospital.

Treatment often lasts for several months, and can have serious side effects.

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