Meningitis Outbreak Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Recalled Injections

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By: Austin Kirk | Published: October 15th, 2012

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the compounding pharmacy blamed for a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak, which has been linked to contaminated epidural steroid injections administered to individuals throughout the United States.

The case is believed to be the first of what may eventually be hundreds of lawsuits over the meningitis outbreak, as federal health officials are contacting an estimated 14,000 people may have received the recalled injections mixed by the New England Compounding Center (NECC).

Barbe Puro filed the complaint (PDF) late last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, seeking class action status to represent all residents of Minnesota who received epidural steroid injections from the compounding pharmacy.

Puro indicates that she received an epidural steroid injection that was from NECC on September 17, and subsequently developed headaches, nausea and other possible symptoms of meningitis. She was later contacted by the Minnesota Department of Health and told to see her physician, because she received an injection that was believed to be contaminated.

Although test results have not confirmed whether Puro is one of the more than 200 people nationwide who have been diagnosed with fungal meningitis after receiving the recalled injections, she indicates that she was forced to undergo medical testing, including blood tests and a spinal tap.

The meningitis outbreak class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Puro and all other Minnesota residents who suffered bodily harm, emotional distress or other personal injuries after being injected with doses of contaminated steroids mixed by the New England Compounding Center (NECC).

At least six medical providers in Minnesota received the tainted steroids, and the Minnesota Department of Health suggests that about 1,000 residents in the state may have received the injections.

Cases of Meningitis from Recalled Steroid Injections Continues to Grow

According to updated information provided by the CDC on Sunday, infections have been confirmed in 14 different states, including at least 4 in Minnesota. However, the number of diagnosed cases is expected to continue to increase as individuals receiving testing for symptoms of meningitis, as the fungus can be in the body for up to four weeks before symptoms appear.

Nationwide, there are now 15 fungal meningitis deaths linked to the injections from NECC, which issued an epidural steroid injection recall on October 3.

So far, all of the illnesses have been linked to three lots of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate solution (MPA), compounded at NECC in Framingham, Massachusetts. The shots are typically injected directly into the spine for pain relief. However, they are also sometimes injected into joints, usually the knee. The CDC reports it has also found several cases of septic arthritis or osteomyelitis of a periperal joint linked to people who were given the MPA injections directly to a joint.

The NECC has ceased all operations and recalled all of its injection drugs as a result of the outbreak. The FDA found at least 50 sealed vials of MPA at the pharmacy that contained the fungal contamination believed to be causing the outbreak.

Fungal meningitis is a non-contageous form of meningitis caused by mold that somehow tainted vials of the epidural injections. It causes inflammation of the spinal cord and protective membranes covering the brain. The inflammation generally causes an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord and can also be caused by parasites, viruses and bacterial infection. Individuals with a weakened immune system may be at a particularly high risk of contracting fungal meningitis.

Symptoms of meningitis following an epidural steroid injection may include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and mental confusion. As the disease progresses, symptoms may become severe, resulting in seizures, coma and death.

In addition to Puro’s class action complaint, NECC is likely to face a number of individual lawsuits over the meningitis outbreak, which have raised concerns about whether the pharmacy has enough insurance or assets to cover the damages caused. Some lawmakers have also suggested that criminal charges should be brought against the pharmacy.

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