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Fungal meningitis outbreak widens across U.S.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 4th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

An outbreak of rare fungal meningitis in the U.S. has been traced to a Massachusetts specialty pharmacy that distributed a steroid injection commonly used to treat back pain. Thirty-five people have been diagnosed with the infection in six states and five of them have since died. While the disease can not be transferred among people, it is a very difficult disease to treat.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The pharmacy in question shipped 2,000 vials of the possibly contaminated steroid to one center in Tennessee alone. The pharmacy has since recalled the entire product and is cooperating with federal officials.

More cases are expected to be discovered. If the pharmacy shipped product to many states, there is the possibility that more people across the country will fall ill with the hard-to-treat infection.

Of the 35 cases, there are 25 people in Tennessee, one in North Carolina, two in Florida, three in Virginia, and two in Maryland and one in Indiana. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported has reported that three of the deaths were in Tennessee, one in Virginia and one in Maryland.

"Some are doing well and improving," Tennessee health official Dr. David Reagan says. "Some are very ill -- very, very seriously ill and may die."

It's not known how many vials of the suspect steroid were shipped, and to where. Health officials are asking anyone who had a spinal injection for pain and who has symptoms such as a headache, stiff neck, dizziness or trouble walking to see a doctor right away. People could take as long as three weeks to fall ill.

"We have notified medical professionals the prime suspect for this outbreak is methylprednisolone," Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner told reporters. Tennessee officials were the first to notice the unusual cases of meningitis. There were also the first to track down the three specialty clinics where the subjects had received treatment. All had received direct injections of the steroid into their spines for pain.

However, health officials are not entirely certain the steroid is to blame. The CDC and the FDA are testing the pain medications and other materials used with the steroid injections, as well as samples from the patients. Patients were also injected with lidocaine and a povidone iodine skin preparation solution. They'll have to find the fungus in one of the products to know for sure what the source is.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord, usually caused by bacteria or viruses. It can be very serious and is marked by a headache, fever, often a stiff neck and balance problems.

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