Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Spreads; 11 Now Dead

More victims are turning up in the growing outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to drugs from a company in Massachusetts. More than 13,000 people have gotten fungus-contaminated injections of a steroid that they were given to relieve pain (most in the back), and 119 have come down with the fungal infection in their cerebrospinal fluid. The list of infected individuals spans 11 states.

CDC fungal meningitis fact sheet
The CDC has a patient FAQ for the fungal meningitis outbreak.

To date, 11 of the victims have died. But the number of people infected as well as the number of deaths can be expected to grow, since it can take up to a month for fungal meningitis symptoms to present, and delays can take place in reporting the illness.

The drug involved is preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate, and injections of the potentially contaminated lot were given starting May 21st, 2012. All of the cases result from a product manufactured by a compounding pharmacy, New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts, which has recalled the tainted product as well as the other drugs it produces. (See the complete list of NECC products being recalled [PDF file].)

The CDC has reported that the type of meningitis involved is not contagious. See the CDC's patient information page for the fungal meningitis outbreak for questions and answers about the disease and this outbreak, including the symptoms.

The CDC says that patients should talk to their doctor as soon as possible if they've had an epidural steroid injection since May 21, 2012 and have any of the following 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
A WebMD article posted today has more details on the outbreak and on fungal meningitis symptoms.

A report on CNN tonight (Oct. 9th) said that unlike traditional drugmakers, compounding pharmacies aren't regulated by the federal government. What do these pharmacies do? "Compound pharmacists create customized medication solutions for patients for whom manufactured pharmaceuticals won't work, according to the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists," said the print version of the CNN report.

[UPDATE, Oct.10th: As another person died from fungal meningitis, calls have grown for FDA oversight of compounded drugs, says a story from ABC News.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Worst West Nile Outbreak in U.S. History is Waning

This year's outbreak of cases of the West Nile virus (WNV) was the worst in U.S. history, but the CDC says it may be waning, according to an article on WebMD. Cases in the second week in September were up 35% from the week before. But instances of the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes, are expected to decline as the weather cools in much of the nation and the insects die off.

West Nile virus activity by state as of Sept. 18th, via CDC.

WNV is spread by mosquitoes that feed on birds that are infected with the virus. Mosquitoes can not spread WNV from one person to another.

Cases of WNV have been seen in 48 of the 50 states, and through Sept. 18th 3,142 cases of human West Nile virus disease have been reported to the CDC, with 134 deaths.

The good news is that about 80% of the people who are infected with WNV won't show any symptoms at all. The 20% that do exhibit symptoms will suffer from maladies such as:
  • fever
  • head and body aches
  • nausea and vomiting 
People may also experience swollen lymph glands or a rash on the body.

Only one in 150 people who become infected with WNV experience severe symptoms. Of the U.S. WNV cases reported, 52% "were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis)," while 48% involved non-neuroinvasive disease. The severe symptoms may include "high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis."

Encephalitis is swelling of the brain; meningitis is swelling of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord.

While few people will develop the severe forms of WNV, the symptoms above shouldn't be taken lightly. As the CDC notes, these symptoms "may last for several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent."

For more information on West Nile virus:
- - - - - - - - - -
Editor's Note: With this post, Healthy Insite returns to publishing on what we hope to be a regular schedule. Look for more articles in the coming weeks.