Nightly News | October 03, 2012
>>> there's a large and growing health scare in the news tonight involving a common procedure for people with severe back pain. the injection of steroids. dozens of patients are now finding out their shots may have been contaminated. a report from our chief science correspondent robert bazell .
>> reporter: about a million people receive steroid shots in the spine for back pain every year. several hundred patients are now receiving phone calls like this one --
>> this is cindy checking on our patients that had epidural steroid insxwrekzs. need to know if everything's okay.
>> reporter: officials are now investigating 26 cases of severe meningitis in five states including four deaths. officials are trying to track down hundreds of other people in 23 states who got the injections and might be at risk. nbc news has learned health officials believe the outbreak that originated at the new england compounding center near boston. the company is recalling hundreds of doses of a steroid compound it made for those lumbar injections believed to be contaminated with a fungus.
>> one of the striking early features of this outbreak -- remember, we're still gathering data -- is that many of these patients are certainly middle-aged, they have back problem, but they're otherwise pretty healthy.
>> reporter: a company like the new england compounding center typically mixes drugs to order for a doctor or hospital. the company did not respond today to requests for a comment. many health officials say that compounding facilities fall into a gray area of regulation, not strictly watched by the fda because they mix drugs and don't make them. officials say it will be a while until they know the full extent of the outbreak because the incubation period for the infection can be three weeks or more. robert bazell , nbc news, new york.