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.]

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