A deadly meningitis outbreak rose to 47 cases in seven states Friday, as clinics scrambled to notify patients across the country that the shots they got for back pain may have been contaminated with a fungus.
Looking for a source of the outbreak, investigators have focused on a steroid custom-made by a specialty pharmacy, New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. Health inspectors found fungus in at least one sealed vial of the steroid at the company’s facility this week.
The pharmacy recalled 17,676 single-dose vials of the steroid, methylprednisolone acetate. Shipments went to clinics in 23 states.
As a precaution, the Food and Drug Administration urged physicians not to use any of the company’s products, and on Friday released a list of them.
The first known case in the meningitis outbreak was diagnosed about two weeks ago in Tennessee.
Three of the five deaths are in Tennessee; the others in Virginia and Maryland.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever.
The type of fungal meningitis involved is not contagious like the more common forms.
It is caused by a fungus that’s widespread but very rarely causes illness. It is treated with high-dose antifungal medications, usually given intravenously in a hospital.
“We do not use any products unless they have been produced under the strict regulations of the FDA,” the statement read. “We have confirmed with Texas Spine and Joint Hospital, Trinity Mother Francis Health System and East Texas Medical Center that their hospitals do not use compound steroids for epidural steroid injections. Thus, none of our patients are affected by this national alert.”
Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics officials offered a statement also: “This does not affect patients of The Trinity Clinic Center for Comprehensive Pain Medicine. We do not use compounded steroids for our epidural steroid injections. All of our steroids come directly from the manufacturer.”
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler said Friday it had not purchased or received any drugs, including steroids, from the New England Compounding Center.