The death toll related to a rare outbreak of fungal meningitis has risen to 14 with more than 170 people sick. The outbreak is the result of moldy steroid medicine that was injected into patients’ spinal columns, spawning an incredibly rare form of the infection.
Doctors are stuck with few treatment options and no way to stop those affected from getting sick, reports USA Today. The death toll continues to rise along with the number of people who have gotten sick, according to the latest report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC has also warned that people who received the tainted injections of methylprednisolone acetate in their knees and other joints are at risk of developing septic arthritis.
Infections disease specialist Dr. Rober Latham is at the epicenter of the outbreak, doing everything that he can to save 25 patients suffering from fungal meningitis at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, but his options are extremely limited.
The two anti-fungal medicines that can effectively fight the disease have such viscous side effects that one of them (amphotericin B) is nicknamed “ampho-terrible.” Both of the drugs fight the fungal infection, but they can damage the liver and kidneys.
The CDC states that they shouldn’t be given unless the patient’s spinal fluid has been clouded by infection. For those patients who are sick enough to receive the drugs, they can expect to be tethered to an IV drip for months afterwards. Latham stated:
“I don’t think anybody in the country or the world, except for some very rare exceptions, has seen anything like this — certainly not at the volume we’re seeing now.”
According to The Los Angeles Times, one of the newest cases has been reported in Idaho, the farthest west of any case reported so far. Including Idaho, 11 states now have cases including Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The moldy medicine has been traced back to the New England Compounding Center, a specialty pharmacy located in Framingham, Massachusetts. The company started by recalling the tainted steroid but has since expanded the recall to all of the products that it makes.
Officials reported that the steroids have been shipped to 75 clinics in 23 states. For those who have received the injections but have shown no symptoms, there is no preventative medicine. Lourdes Gonzalez, who received an injection of the potentially contaminated steroid, questioned, “Do they not have something if this was to occur?”
Health officials have to say no to Gonzalez’ question because they know of nothing that can protect those who were exposed to the recalled steroids. For those who are showing symptoms of the outbreak, doctors will perform a spinal tap to test the fluid. If the test turns out negative, the patient is sent home, though this doesn’t necessarily clear them from the disease, as the pathogens can hide inside the spinal canal and not show up in initial testing.
Symptoms of fungal meningitis include a stiff neck and worsening headache or fever as well as dizziness and vomiting.