Meningitis Outbreak Continues to Grow

Spinal injections contaminated with fungi put 14,000 people at risk for meningitis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The list of people affected by a recent meningitis outbreak keeps growing. As of Thursday, the list reaches a total of 170 cases in 11 states, with 14 dead.

The outbreak has been linked to three lots of spinal injections that came from the New England Compounding Company (NECC).

Up to 14,000 people have been exposed to the injections used to control back pain in 75 clinics and hospitals in 23 states.

"Contact your doctor immediately if you've been exposed."

The spinal injections were contaminated by a common leaf mold. Cerebrospinal fluid tests of some patients confirmed the presence of the fungus.

Fungal contamination has also been found in a vial of the steroid at NECC in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Meningitis, inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, can be life threatening and is caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Cases like this due to fungi are rarely seen in humans and are not contagious, but are difficult to treat because they may cause stroke.

The infected patients’ symptoms include slight weakness, back pain and headache. Possible additional symptoms are fever, light sensitivity, stiff neck, speech problems and increased pain and soreness at the injection site.

Some patients have also experienced strokes.

Compounding companies like NECC are legally considered to be pharmacies and are regulated less strictly than drug manufacturers. Instead of making drugs, they collect and combine or package drug ingredients into certain doses or combinations.

Compounding companies can be used to change the medication form from solid to liquid, eliminate ingredients a patient is allergic to, change the dose or flavor.

Spinal injections to treat pain have been in increasing demand since the 1990s and compounding pharmacies have helped fill shortages that pharmaceutical companies can not keep up with.

According to Reuters, U.S. House and Senate lawmakers are currently investigating regulations in regards to the outbreak.

In the meantime, the spinal injections have been recalled by the Federal Drug Administration. More cases are expected to unfold over the next few weeks.

The incubation time is unknown but is suspected to be one month.

If you have been exposed to epidural steroid injection after May 21, it is important to contact your doctor immediately. Antifungal medications are available and can be used to treat the infection if administered in a timely manner.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 10, 2012
Last Updated:
October 12, 2012