Oct. 16, 2012 — Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the number of deaths from fungal meningitis stands at 15 after they increased the number of reported cases to 205 nationwide.
Fourteen states are now reporting cases including Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
“The problem happened when the steroids came out of compounding pharmacies,” said Tim Leuenberger, a nurse practitioner at the Kentucky Pain Institute in Morehead. “Compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but by individual states.”
The injectable steroid shots were used for back pain. The medication has been recalled.
Meningitis is usually caused by a virus or bacteria. The fungus connected to the outbreak is found in dirt and grass.
Somehow, the fungus is making people sick because it found its way into the injectable steroid.
“I think this is an isolated incident,” Leuenberger said. “There are a lot of contaminated doses but it’s a situation that can be handled and it is improving.”
The state most affected by the meningitis outbreak is Tennessee, where health officials say the number of cases has increased by three since Friday, to 53 with six deaths reported.
Leuenberger said people take these injectable steroids for joint pain, inflammation of the knees or to counteract respiratory exacerbation.
“They are designed to shut down the inflammatory response in the body to reduce whatever reaction it is, whether it’s poison ivy, asthma or allergic reaction in the lungs,” Leuenberger said.
He added that they have received many calls from concerned patients about the injectable steroid to make sure they were not infected.
“We want them to know we use the FDA- regulated manufacturer with the strictest oversight,” Leuenberger said. “We don’t use any compounding pharmacies for injectables and we have not been shipped any of the contaminated steroids.”
“It’s important for patients to ask their provider where they are obtaining their medication. We’re getting calls from patients that come in to the office asking where our pharmaceuticals come from simply because of the number of patients who receive injectable steroids.”
CDC officials report their staff members are working around the clock to bring the outbreak under control.
MacKenzie Bates can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 784-4116.