Meningitis Outbreak Worries the Nation

It’s all over the news: There’s a meningitis outbreak that’s spreading across the US. What does this mean for your health?

Posted on | Comments ()

For the last three weeks, America’s emergency rooms have been overrun with people worried that they may have a rare form of deadly meningitis. As of October 19, there have been 257 confirmed cases of meningitis in 16 states and 20 deaths from unusually rare forms of meningitis. Of those cases, 47 were laboratory-confirmed fungal cases. The fungi, exserohilum rostratum, aspergillus, and cladosporium, are commonly found in the environment, but very rarely cause meningitis.

CDC Map of Meningitis Outbreaks as of October 18, 2012 

Now, federal health authorities have confirmed that the source of the fungus came from tainted vials of a steroid from a specialty pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Physicians unknowingly injected the tainted steroid medication in the spines, knees and ankles of approximately 14,000 Americans from May to September of this year in order to alleviate the pain and swelling associated with arthritis and other joint disorders. On October 6, the NECC voluntarily recalled the vials of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetat, and released a statement indicating that they were “eager to review these findings as part of our continued cooperation with the CDC and FDA to identify the cause of this contamination." The FDA found exserohilum fungi in unopened vials of the steroid in their investigation. So far, three victims have filed class-action lawsuits against the NECC.

Currently, the FDA is warning health-care professionals to not use any product made by the NECC, even if it wasn’t recalled. These products include other injectable types of medications, like ophthalmic medication used for eye surgeries and a cardioplegic solution used during open heart surgeries.

If you haven’t received any spinal or joint injections since May 2012, don’t be alarmed. Fungal meningitis from exserohilum rostratum or the other fungi is not contagious from person-to-person contact. However, if you or a loved one experience the following symptoms, go – do not wait – to the emergency room for further evaluation, as meningitis is a deadly disease if not caught early.

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Confusion or Altered Mental Status