A rare form of fungal meningitis has swept through several states, infecting 137 and killing 12.
The outbreak of meningitis was caused by steroid back injections contaminated with fungus, and an estimated 13,000 people are at risk. The pharmacy that supplied the steroids, the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, has issued a recall of over 17,000 vials that reached 75 clinics across 23 states. However, thousands of vials have already been used, including 900 in Tennessee alone.
Tennessee has had a bulk of the cases, including six deaths. Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio and Indiana have also reported cases of fungal meningitis.
The four cases, including one death, reported in Florida have all been linked to a clinic in Marion County. However, facilities in Miami-Dade, Orange and Escambia counties received shipments of the tainted injections.
Meningitis is the swelling of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spine, and symptoms include severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. This form of meningitis is not contagious.
Doctors have advised against using products from the Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy, and contacting your doctor if you feel you are at risk. The earlier a patient receives treatment, the greater the chance of survival.
This is not the first time a compounding pharmacy has been blamed for serious outbreaks caused by contaminated medicine. Earlier this year, there were 33 reported cases in seven states of a fungal eye infection caused from products mixed in a Florida pharmacy. The same Florida pharmacy was also responsible for the supplements that killed 21 polo horses in 2009.
Compounding pharmacies often get drugs from manufacturers and then split them into smaller doses, or mix ingredients sold in bulk. During this process, the medication is susceptible to contamination. Also, compounding pharmacies are not regulated as closely as drug manufacturers, and their products do not require FDA approval.
Currently, there are more than 7,500 compounding pharmacies in the United States, providing close to 10 percent of the total drugs administered in the country.
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Source: CNN, "Rare meningitis infects more than 100, kills 8," Oct. 8, 2012.
MSNBC, "CDC: 12 U.S deaths from meningitis," Oct. 10, 2012.