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Women's Health

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Abortion Pill Deaths: Mystery Deepens

Women Who Took RU-486 Had Same Rare Bacterial Infection
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 30, 2005 - Four women in California who died of toxic shock syndrome within a week of taking the controversial abortion pill RU-486 had the same rare bacterial infection, federal officials have confirmed.

The deaths, which occurred between September 2003 and May of this year, were due to the toxic effects of an infection with the highly lethal bacteria Clostridium sordellii. Only 10 previous cases of fatal C. sordellii infections had been reported, with eight of those occurring in women who had given birth to live infants. One other was associated with an abortion, and the remaining one was not associated with pregnancy at all.

The findings are reported in the Dec. 1 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

CDC investigator Marc Fischer, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that it is not yet clear if there is something about the abortion pill that makes patients more vulnerable to the rare infection.

He adds that officials with the CDC and the FDA, and outside experts, plan to meet early next year to explore the issue.

"The fact that all four of these cases were due to the same rare bacteria and that they all occurred in California certainly raises a lot of questions," he says.

The RU-486 abortion pill is known by the brand name Mifeprex. Danco Laboratories -- the maker of Mifeprex -- did not respond to a request for a comment on the findings in time for the publication of this story.

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