Another death, more infections reported in fungal meningitis outbreak

Health officials are reporting another death, the twelfth, and more illnesses in the outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to a contaminated epidural steroid injection.

According to a recent update from MedPageToday.com and other sources, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed another death and now puts the total number of people infected with fungal meningitis at 137. Each received a contaminated methylprednisolone acetate injection distributed by New England Compounding Center.

The number of victims in this outbreak continues to rise and these additions were just confirmed overnight. The CDC expects the number of recipients of this contaminated injection drug who will develop fungal meningitis to rise. Symptoms of an infection could take up to a month to materialize. Early signs of an infection include fever and a worsening headache. 

As many as 13,000 people in up to 30 states likely received the contaminated methylprednisolone acetate injection. This drug is delivered near the spine and is a steroid injection. It is prescribed in the treatment of back pain and inflammation. Victims of the outbreak have only been reported in 10 states, to date, and Tennessee continues to confirm the most cases. In Tennessee, there have been at least 6 deaths and 44 illnesses linked to this outbreak.

New England Compounding Center is a pharmaceutical compounding facility, a company that takes in other Food and Drug Administration-approved prescription drugs and either compounds or mixes them into other drugs for specific applications. It has issued recalls on these contaminated methylprednisolone acetate injections and all the products it distributed from its Framingham, Mass., facility.

An FDA investigation including testing done on sample vials of the suspect vials confirmed the presence of a bacteria consistent with one that could be responsible for the outbreak of meningitis. This form of meningitis is not contagious.

Facilities like NECC are not subject to FDA regulations but as the outbreak continues to widen and more people are affected, scrutiny over this company’s practices, along with others like it, is intensifying. One major question forwarded this week was how NECC was able to distribute enough vials to inject 30,000 people when the company is supposed to be limited to producing drug mixtures and compounds in very small quantities.

Some estimates suggest as many as 5 percent of recipients of the methylprednisolone acetate injection from NECC will likely be infected with fungal meningitis.

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