Health officials reported 27 new cases of a rare fungal meningitis outbreak today that has killed at least seven people and sickened a total of 91 across nine states.
The outbreak of aspergillus meningitis has been linked to spinal steroid injections, a common treatment for back pain. A sealed vial of the steroid, called methylprednisolone acetate, was found to contain fungus, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The states with reported cases are: Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota and Ohio. Tennessee leads all states with 32 reported cases. The new total of 91 cases is up from 64 on Saturday. Most of the new cases were reported in Michigan, where the total increased from eight to 20. Virginia’s total increased from 11 to 18.
The widening outbreak has alarmed U.S. health officials and focused attention on regulations of pharmaceutical compounding companies like the one that produced the drugs, the New England Compounding Center Inc in Framingham, Massachusetts.
The company shipped 17,676 vials of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate to 76 facilities in 23 states from July through September, the Massachusetts Health Department said.
other states that received the contaminated products from NECC are California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.
Federal health inspectors began inspecting the NECC plant last Monday. Inspectors found foreign particles in unopened vials, and after testing one of the unopened vials, they determined the substance was a fungus
Drugs manufactured by compound pharmacies do not have to go through FDA-mandated pre-market approval. Instead, oversight and licensing of these pharmacies comes from state health pharmacy boards.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by an infection, frequently with bacteria or a virus, but it can also be caused by less common pathogens like fungi, according to the CDC.
Fungal meningitis is very rare and, unlike viral and bacterial meningitis, it is not contagious.
Symptoms of fungal meningitis are similar to symptoms from other forms of meningitis, but they often appear more gradually and can be very mild at first, the CDC says.
n addition to typical meningitis symptoms like headache, fever, nausea and stiffness of the neck, people with fungal meningitis may also experience confusion, dizziness and discomfort from bright lights. Patients might just have one or two of these symptoms, the CDC says.