As feared, the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections has grown. According to the most recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 14 people are now dead from a rare strain of fungal meningitis called aspergillus that has been blamed on contaminated methlprednisone steroid injections prepared by the New England Compounding Center Inc. of Farmingdale, Massachusetts.
Already, one lawsuit has been filed by a victim of the fungal meningitis outbreak. According to a Reuters report, the lawsuit was filed in federal court by a Minnesota woman who said she was given a steroid injection for back pain and has experienced symptoms consistent with meningitis. She is awaiting the results of tests.
At least 169 people have been stricken with fungal meningitis after receiving steroid shots in their backs to treat back pain. One other patient developed an ankle infection after having an injection in the ankle, but fungal meningitis has not yet been confirmed in that case. Federal health officials believe as many as 14,000 people may have been injected with potentially tainted steroids from the New England Compounding Center. So far, officials have been able to locate 12,000 of those individuals to warn them to be on the lookout for symptoms of fungal meningitis. The incubation period for the illness is approximately one month.
The New England Compounding Center recalled all of its products and voluntarily surrendered its license to operate on October 3, 2012. According to the CDC, the recalled steroid injections were shipped to 76 facilities in 23 states, including 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. Fungus has been detected in some 50 steroid vials distributed by the compounding center thus far.
It’s not yet clear how the steroids became contaminated with the fungus. However, Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health told CBS News that it appears the New England Compounding Center violated state law governing compounding pharmacies. Such facilities aren’t supposed to engage in large-scale production like a drug manufacturer. Instead, they’re supposed to produce medication for patient-specific prescriptions, she said.
According to a Reuters, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is now calling for a criminal probe of the New England Compounding Center.
“The fact that death and serious injuries resulted from the potential violations of law certainly is relevant, and the misstatements or fraud could constitute a violation of federal mail and wire fraud prohibitions,” he told Reuters.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Patients with meningitis may experience headache, fever, nausea, and stiffness of the neck, as well as confusion, dizziness, and discomfort from bright lights. According to the CDC, some people infected in the fungal meningitis outbreak have only experienced mild symptoms, while others have suffered strokes.