Meningitis Outbreak Linked to Steroid Injections for Back Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • A rare fungal form of meningitis has sickened 121 people in 10 states, killing 12. Sadly, officials say that count is certain to rise. Thus far, the majority of cases reported have been in Tennessee. The tally as of early this morning is 39 cases in Tennessee, 24 in Virginia, 25 in Michigan, 12 in Indiana, eight in Maryland, six in Florida, three in Minnesota, two in North Carolina and one each in Ohio and New Jersey.  However, the number of cases continues to rise fairly quickly so by the time you read this, those numbers may have changed. 


    The outbreak has been linked to methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid that is injected into the spine to treat back pain and inflammation. Dr. John Dreyzehner, Tennessee Health Commissioner, said they had pinpointed three lot numbers of the drug, produced by the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Farmington, Mass., as the source of the fungus.

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    The manufacturer issued a voluntary recall of the three lots of methylprednisolone acetate on September 28.  Then Saturday, in an abundance of caution, the manufacturer voluntarily recalled all of its products and surrendered its license until an FDA investication is complete.  You can download a complete list of NECC products recalled here


    Medication from the three affected lots of methylprednisolone acetate was shipped to 23 states––the six states reporting meningitis cases plus California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.


    FDA officials, state health departments, and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy are working together to investigate the scope of the outbreak. They don't currently know how many individual patients may be at risk. According to an Associated Press report, “An infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University says he believes the country will see more cases of a rare fungal meningitis in the upcoming weeks.”


    Facts About Fungal Meningitis


    Following is the information health officials have given out about this type of meningitis:

    • Unlike viral and bacterial meningitis, this form of meningitis is not contagious.

    • The incubation period for this type of meningitis is not currently known but for the cases reported, the time between injection and the appearance of symptoms has been between six and 42 days.

    • Symptoms include worsening to severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, fevers, slurred speech, weakness, unsteady gait, urinary retention and sensory deficits.

    If you received an epidural injection of methylprednisolone acetate between May 21 and September 28, it would be a good idea to check with your doctor to see if the medication you received was from one of the recalled lot numbers. If so and if you start to develop any of the symptoms mentioned above, call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. The sooner this form of meningitis is treated, the better your chances for survival.



  • Sources:

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    Loller, T. “Specialist says more cases of rare fungal meningitis likely to be detected around the country.” The Associated Press. October 4, 2012.

    Smith, M. “CDC and FDA: Meningitis Toll Rising.” MedPage Today. October 4, 2012.

    Wilemon, T., Roche, W. “Outbreak of rare meningitis hits 5 states.” The Tennessean. October 4, 2012.

    Ghianni, T., "Calls for oversight grow as meningitis death toll mounts." Yahoo News. October 10, 2012.


Published On: October 10, 2012