Steroid-related meningitis cases rise to 47; Macon center got drugs tied to outbreak

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Friday, Oct. 5, 2012

News release from the Georgia Department of Public Health:

"The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is working with the CDC and the FDA to investigate an outbreak of fungal (Aspergillus) meningitis among patients who received an epidural steroid injection. Several of these patients also suffered strokes that are believed to have resulted from their infection. As of Oct. 4, 2012, five deaths have been reported - none, however, occurring in Georgia and no infections have been found in Georgia to date. Because the greatest risk for patients infected with fungal meningitis is delayed diagnosis, DPH is working to inform the state's physicians and physician assistants.

Current U.S. cases are associated with a potentially contaminated medication - an injection to treat back pain prepared by New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass.

"Georgia has been notified that affected medication was delivered to the Forsyth Street Ambulatory Surgery Center in the Macon area," said J. Patrick O'Neal, M.D., director, Division of Health Protection. "We're asking clinicians in that area to be extra vigilant."

"To date, DPH is aware of no other affected shipments arriving in Georgia," said Cherie Drenzek, D.V.M., M.S., state epidemiologist.

In an alert sent to approximately 32,000 physicians and physician assistants in Georgia, DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., noted the difficulty in diagnosing fungal meningitis is its subtlety.

"It is a slow and undulating illness that may take one to four weeks following an injection to lead to a variety of symptoms, including fever, new or worsening headache, nausea, and new neurological deficit consistent with deep brain stroke," Fitzgerald wrote.

DPH is working with the middle Georgia facility to contact patients who have had an injection. CDC and FDA recommend healthcare professionals cease use of any product produced by the New England Compounding Center until further information is available.

Additional information can be found here.

Macon center got drugs tied to outbreak

ATLANTA (AP) -- A surgery center in Macon administered steroids to 189 people using drugs that have been tied to a nationwide meningitis outbreak blamed for five deaths.

Health officials said Friday that the Forsyth Street Orthopaedic Ambulatory Surgery Center received steroids produced by New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found contamination this week in a sealed vial of the steroid at the company. Tests are under way to determine if it is the same fungus blamed in the outbreak.

Dr. J. Patrick O'Neal, director of Georgia's division of health protection, said 160 of the patients who received the drug in Macon have been contacted. None have tested positive for meningitis, though O'Neal said it can take an extended time for the disease to manifest itself.

Steroid-related meningitis cases rise to 47

NEW YORK (AP) -- Health officials say the number of people sickened by a deadly meningitis outbreak has risen again. There are now 47 cases in seven states.

The number of deaths -- five -- has remained the same.

Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana had previously reported cases. On Friday, Michigan joined the list, with four cases.

The outbreak of fungal meningitis has been tied to steroid shots used to treat back pain. The steroid was custom-made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts. Health inspectors found fungus in at least one sealed vial of the steroid at the company's facility.

The company has recalled the steroid which was sent to clinics in 23 states. The government urged doctors not to use any of the company's products.

(Copyright 2012, The Associated Press)

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