Oct. 8, 2012 at 1:44 PM ET
The number of people infected with a rare type of meningitis tied to contaminated steroid injections has climbed to 119, federal health officials said Tuesday. Eleven people have died.
The drugs were given starting May 21, much earlier than previously suspected, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Infections and deaths have been reported in nine states. As many as 13,000 patients may have been exposed to the potentially contaminated drugs recalled from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy, officials added.
Cases have been identified in 10 states and health officials fear the numbers will continue to rise as doctors check patients for the symptoms. Doctors and patients alike may not know to look for the unusual infection, which can take weeks to develop after an injection.
New Jersey has now reported its first meningitis case that may be linked to the contaminated injections. Tennessee continues to log the most victims, with 35 cases and four deaths. In Virginia, 23 cases have been confirmed, with one death. Michigan has reported 21 cases and two deaths, while Maryland has reported five cases and one death.
Other affected states include Florida, with four cases; Indiana with 11 cases; Minnesota with three cases, North Carolina with two cases and Ohio with one case, officials said.
The drug in question is called methylprednisolone acetate and is used mostly to treat older patients for lower back pain.
The contaminated drugs have been traced to the New England Compounding Center, a single compounding pharmacy. The pharmacy has closed voluntarily, relinquished its state license and recalled its products, which include steroids, painkillers and dozens of other drugs. At least one sealed vial of drug has been found to have fungus growing in it, the Food and Drug Administration said. The FDA does not regulate pharmacies like the one in Massachusetts but can be called in when contamination is suspected.
Compounding pharmacies usually make drugs to order, and the steroids suspected of causing the infections did not contain preservatives that can keep fungi and bacteria from growing.
The pharmacy sent products to clinics in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and West Virginia, the CDC says.
The patients appear to have had contaminated drugs injected directly into their spinal fluid. CDC says the clinics do not appear to be to blame. The CDC said it has found fungus, including Aspergillus and Exserohilum, in specimens from nine patients.
In Tennessee, health workers contacted 66 patients who may have been infected, in some cases going door-to-door to inform them of the risk and to answer questions, state officials said.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Bacteria or viruses are the usual cause, but meningitis can also be caused by fungi and parasites. "In addition to typical meningitis symptoms, like headache, fever, nausea, and stiffness of the neck, people with fungal meningitis may also experience confusion, dizziness, and discomfort from bright lights. Patients might just have one or two of these symptoms," CDC said.
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