|Ocala, FL -
Octber 4, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star Banner on Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 7:13 p.m
As the outbreak of a rare form of meningitis widened to six states on Thursday, killing five people and sickening 30 more, a surprising local angle emerged:
Only two of the affected patients are from Florida, and both were treated for meningitis at Munroe Regional Medical Center.
The patients, whose names have not been made public, did not contract the disease at Munroe. Rather, they received medical care there after they complained of symptoms associated with the outbreak.
A hospital official on Thursday said one of the two patients has been released; the other was still there late in the day.
Information about the patients’ condition, when they went to the hospital for help, or how they contracted the meningitis wasn’t immediately available.
The outbreak is attributed to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that manufactured a contaminated steroid medication, known as methylprednisolone acetate. The company recalled three lots of the medicine last week and has shut down operations.
The recalled steroid was shipped to 75 facilities in 23 states since July, said health officials with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a joint telephone conference Thursday.
The type of fungal meningitis involved is not contagious, like other more common forms of meningitis. This more rare kind is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold. Health officials suspect it may have been in the steroid.
The steroid is typically administered by injection to relieve back pain.
Investigators said they are still trying to confirm the source of the infection, but the one common theme is that each patient got the steroid medication.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we advise all health care practitioners not to use any product (from New England Compounding Center),” said Ilisa Bernstein, director of compliance for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
Both CDC and FDA officials said Thursday they did not know how many vials of the medicine were produced and shipped out from the Massachusetts manufacturer.
In Tennessee, many of the infected people with the meningitis got the shots at the St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville, which had 2,000 vials of the suspect lots, state health officials said this week.
FDA and CDC officials said they did not know how many of the tainted vials were sent and used in Florida.
The outbreak may go beyond 23 states. Because the New England Compounding Center is licensed in all 50 states, there is a possibility that contaminated products may be in other areas, Bernstein said.
Dr. Benjamin Park, medical epidemiologist with the CDC, told reporters during the telephone conference that the 23 states are: 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.
Health officials during the new conference said that fungal meningitis symptoms included worsening, severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. The same health officials also said some people were experiencing stroke-like symptoms, including slurred speech.
They also warned that some of the symptoms could be mild, making it more difficult for patients with the disease to suspect they have symptoms.
Park said that the CDC was notified of a patient with an onset of meningitis 19 days after receiving an epidural steroid injection on Sept. 21 in Tennessee. On Sept. 28, the CDC was notified of cases outside of Tennessee.
Compounding pharmacies mix ingredients for customized medicines, typically at unique doses or formulations. The compounding pharmacies are regulated by individual states.