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Fungal Meningitis Patients: A Long Road to Recovery

An Outbreak Without Precedent continued...

Many hope they are on the road to recovery, but no one can tell them when it will end.

Experts say they've never seen these kind of fungal infections, much less this many cases.

"It's very difficult for the doctors and the patients because we can't say, 'Well, just two more weeks of this and it will be over.' What we're saying is that we're going to keep treating you. We're going to keep caring for you, and when the experts tell us we can stop, we're going to do that," says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

What's worse, though the pace of new infections has slowed, doctors continue to find more. 

Based on previous experience, doctors had expected that they could see new cases of fungal infections cropping up as long as four months after patients received their tainted meds. Since the contaminated steroid shots were recalled on Sept. 26, that would mean that people who had been exposed could be in the clear by late January. But even that timeline is shifting.

"We've got incubations now of documented cases beyond 120 days. I just heard of one the other day that was 125. The question now is how long can these sit before they manifest?" Chiller says.

"I don't think we're done yet. I don't think we're at the end, but I certainly hope we're close," he says.

A Second Wave of Infections

Since her diagnosis, Johnnie has been hospitalized three times. Twice she was admitted for more than a month.  

In November, doctors found a new pocket of infection deep in her back that was pressing on her spine.

She wasn't the only one.

"About a month ago, it became evident that in addition to meningitis, a second problem was developing," says Schaffner. "That was these abscesses in the tissue where the epidural injections had taken place."

The abscesses were happening to patients like Johnnie who were already exhausted by a fight with meningitis. But they were also cropping up in otherwise healthy people who thought they were in the clear.

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