Thousands of people throughout the United States may be in danger of contracting a life-threatening strain of fungal meningitis that has already killed eight people and sickened more than 100 people nationwide.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that as many as 13,000 people may have received potentially contaminated epidural steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center (NECC), which has been linked to a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak.
The compounding pharmacy recalled more than 17,000 shots and shut down operations once the outbreak of meningitis was linked to its drugs. The CDC has been issuing daily updates on the outbreak.
A death in Tennessee on Monday raised the death toll of the outbreak to eight. That state has been the hardest hit, with 35 illnesses and four deaths at last count. Other states affected by the outbreak include Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
The CDC based its estimate of potential people affected on the three lots of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate known to be contaminated. However, New England Compounding Center has recalled all of its injection drugs after the FDA raised concerns that problems at the company may be systemic.
At least two different strains of fungal meningitis have been identified as originating from the compounding pharmacy’s drugs. Not everyone who got a contaminated shot will get sick, the CDC noted.
The recalled epidural steroid injections were shot directly into the spine of patients by hospitals and pain management centers nationwide.
The number of illnesses may rise for some time, since the shots were distributed between May 21, 2012 and were on the market until September 26. It can take up to a month for fungal meningitis to appear in infected persons, meaning illnesses and deaths may continue to pour in through late October.
Fungal meningitis is a type of meningitis that in this case was caused by aspergillius, a common 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. Signs of meningitis usually develop within three to seven days after exposure. As the disease progresses, symptoms may become severe, resulting in seizures, coma and death.