Federal health officials are warning health care providers throughout the United States that they should not to use any drugs from the New England Compounding Center (NECC), as the number of deaths and illnesses due to meningitis from tainted epidural injections continues to rise.
Earlier this week, a steroid injection recall was issued by the New England Compounding Center, a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that shipped products nationwide. At least 35 people in six states have developed a rare fungal meningitis from the steroid injections, including five deaths.
The recall was issued for three lots of methylprednisolone acetate that the compounding pharmacy mixed itself. The drug is a steroid epidural injection given directly into the spine to treat back pain. Some hospitals report having given the shot to hundreds of patients.
The FDA is now warning warning medical providers not to use any NECC drugs after a sealed vial taken from the pharmacy tested positive for fungal meningitis.
In a statement issued on October 4, NECC said its recall now encompasses all methylprednisolone acetate products and all other injectable drugs distributed by the compounding pharmacy.
“We also understand the FDA – as a precautionary measure – has suggested to medical professionals that they do not use any NECC products at this time, although there is no indication of any potential issues with other products,” the company said in the statement.
NECC has suspended operations while the investigation into the outbreak continues.
Fungal Meningitis Following Epidural Steroid Injections
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.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautioned that the disease does not transmit through contact and individuals with the illness are not contagious.
Following the outbreak, a number of product liability lawyers are reviewing potential lawsuits for individuals diagnosed with fungal meningitis after receiving one of the contaminated steroid injections.