The death toll from a rare outbreak of fungal meningitis has risen to seven, including two in Michigan on Saturday. Meanwhile, 65 cases have been reported in nine states.
The outbreak has been linked to steroid injections, since those who have been affected fell sick after they received injections linked to a pharmaceutical compounding plant in Massachusetts, reports Reuters.
New cases were reported on Sunday in both Ohio and Minnesota, bringing the number of states affected to nine. The cases involved people who became sick after they received steroid injections (mostly for back pain) and have also shown up in Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Indiana.
Meningitis infects membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. The steroid vials that were linked to the outbreak were shipped to 76 facilities in 23 different states. Authorities believe that they could have been used to inject thousands of people.
Minnesota, like other states where the outbreak has been discovered, has been working to determine who else may have been infected at the six known locations in the state, according to Buddy Ferguson, the public information officer for the state’s Department of Health. Ferguson stated:
“We have identified a list of approximately 950 people who did receive injectable steroids from the implicated lots.”
ABC News notes that Dr. Ilisa Bernstein, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office of Compliance, stated:
“FDA is in the process of further identifying the fungal contaminate. Our investigation into the source of this outbreak is still ongoing.”
The steroid linked with the outbreak came from the New England Compounding Center in Framington, Massachusetts. It is a specialty pharmacy that has since recalled three lots of the drug and has shut down operations. Dr. Benjamin Park of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated:
“If patients are concerned, they should contact their physician to find out if they received a medicine from one of these lots.”
Dr. Park added that most of the cases of fungal meningitis occurred in older adults who, aside from back pain, were healthy. Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, stated:
“Fungal meningitis in general is rare. But aspergillus meningitis — the kind we’re talking about here — is super rare and very serious. There’s no such thing as mild aspergillus meningitis.”
Early signs of fungal meningitis include headache, fever, dizziness, nausea, and slurred speech. They are much more subtle than bacterial meningitis and they can take almost a month to appear. When left untreated, the disease can cause permanent neurological damage — even death.
Unlike bacterial and viral forms of meningitis, fungal meningitis is not transmitted between people. This means that only those who received the steroid injections are thought to be at risk.
The FDA has advised health providers to stop using any product that was made by the New England Compounding Center while the investigation continues.