Death Toll for Meningitis Outbreak Reaches 23

NECC injection bottlesOn Monday, October 22nd, the CDC announced that 3 more people have died from the national meningitis tragedy, bringing the total deaths to 23. There have now been 297 non-fatal cases, and of the approximately 14,000 people who received the contaminated steroid, 12,000 have been contacted.

The FDA is currently investing two additional drugs made by the New England Compounding Center (NECC) that appear to be linked to the fungal meningitis outbreak. They have received reports of two heart transplant patients who developed fungal infections after being given one of these drugs during surgery. The NECC has recalled all of the drugs produced at the facility and has surrendered its state license.

According to recent press reports, a 2006 investigation of the NECC revealed inadequate contamination controls along with other insufficiencies related to operation procedures. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has requested up to 10 years of records from the drug company. Furthermore, two members of the House Oversight Committee appealed to the Government Accountability Office to investigate the pharmacy compounding industry with a goal to reforming state and federal rules so as to prevent this type of tragedy in the future.

On Tuesday, October 23rd, Massachusetts launched a criminal investigation into the specialty pharmacy. The Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services started investigating the pharmacy on September 26 and the “Preliminary Investigation Report of NECC” is now available online.

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Contaminated Steroid Linked to Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

aspergillus fumigatus fungasAs many as 119 patients who received epidural steroid injections have developed fungal meningitis. As of October 9, 2012, 11 people have died from the outbreak. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a vial of the steroid called methylprednisolone acetate was found to be contaminated with a fungus. In several of the patients, the meningitis was caused by the fungus aspergillus. New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, Massachusetts is believed to be the source of the contaminated steroid. NECC has recalled three lots of the drug and is no longer in operation.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention along with the Food and Drug Administration are conducting and a multi-state investigation focusing on cases of meningitis where the patient was given an epidural spinal injection. The injections are given to help relieve back pain. Up to 75 clinics in 23 states received the recalled lots of the steroid.The potentially contaminated injections were given staring May 21, 2012.

The States that received the NECC steroid include: California, Connecticut, Florida, Giorgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and West Virginia. A complete list of the Healthcare facilities which received lots of the recalled drug is available on the CDC website.

The CDC is advising patients to find out if they received a potentially contaminated medication by contacting the health care provider who performed the procedure.

“If you have received a potentially contaminated medication, seek medical attention if you have symptoms. It is important to note that infected patients have had very mild symptoms that are only slightly worse than usual. For example, many infected patients have had slight weakness, slightly worsened back pain, or even a mild headache. Patients have had symptoms generally starting from 1 to 4 weeks after their injection.”

People who received an epidural steroid injection since May 21, 2012 should seek medical attention should they have any of the symptoms listed below:
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”

Updates about the investigation as well as patient guidelines and answers to frequently asked questions are available at the CDC website.