Tainted Steroid Leaves 15 Dead, 205 Ill and More Than 14,000 at Risk for Developing Fungal Meningitis

A deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis has killed 15 people and sickened 205 in 14 states in the last three weeks. Fungus-tainted epidural steroid injections are to blame for the outbreak of the rare form of meningitis.

New England Compounding Center (NECC), a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, was identified by the FDA and CDC as the source of the tainted steroid vials. Compounding pharmacies mix special prescriptions according to an individual patient’s needs. In the case of the affected steroids, the NECC mixed bulk prescriptions and sold in large quantities to medical clinics and facilities.

17,676 single doses of potentially fungus-tainted steroid vials were distributed by NECC to 75 medical facilities throughout 23 states, including Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee but not Kentucky, between July and September of this year.

Here is a link to a list of the 75 facilities that received the potentially affected steroids: http://www.cdc.gov/hai/outbreaks/meningitis-facilities-map.html

The FDA and CDC examining steroid samples from NECC found they were contaminated with a common fungus found in the environment. The NECC issued a voluntary recall on September 23 and also voluntarily surrendered its license to do business.

The steroid involved—methylprednisolone acetate—is most commonly used in epidural steroid back injections, but is also used to treat arthritis pain and swelling in other joints of the body, blood disorders, severe allergic reactions, eye conditions and some cancers.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Diagnosis is made after a spinal tap, and those infected need to be admitted to a hospital for intravenous doses of anti-fungal medications. Tragically, 15 people have died, many more are sickened, and thousands live in fear of developing the disease.

The 75 medical facilities involved are scrambling to notify those patients who are at risk for contracting fungal meningitis. The CDC says that more than 14,000 may have received the tainted steroid.

Health officials say those suffering from fungal meningitis may have symptoms consistent with mild stroke-like symptoms. Initially, doctors thought patients would develop symptoms within 30 days of exposure, but now caution patients’ risk could last up to three months.

Doctors advise you to seek medical attention immediately if you may have received the tainted steroid, and any of the following symptoms appear:

  • Severe or worsening headache
  • New weakness or numbness in any part of the body
  • Nausea
  • Stiff neck
  • Slurred speech
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to bright lights

The only good news is that fungal meningitis is not contagious, unlike bacterial or viral meningitis. Other steroid products, such as those used to treat asthma, are not part of the recall and are not at risk. Additionally, epidurals used in childbirth are not involved.

The FDA and CDC do not know how many people may develop the extremely rare form of meningitis. They fear, because of the widespread distribution of the steroid vials and the length of time before symptoms may develop, many more people may be sickened by fungal meningitis in the next several weeks.

Watch our blog for updates on this developing story.