News on the deadly and rare form of fungal meningitis continues to get worse. On Friday, 14 new cases of fungal meningitis in patients who received the contaminated shots for back pain were reported, bringing the total to 268, and the death toll to 21, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of the 14 new cases, four were reported in both Michigan and Florida, three in Tennessee, and one each in Indiana, Ohio and Virginia. Tennessee has been hardest hit of the 16 states with confirmed cases.
Executives at the Boston-area pharmacy whose steroid shots have been linked to a deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak have been sued in a bid to freeze their personal assets as a result.
Furthermore, there have also been three cases of peripheral infections from injections into joints.
Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong said NECC would no longer be allowed to do business in the state.
“The company will cease to operate as a pharmacy in our state, immediately,” Armstrong said. “Further, the NECC may never re-apply for a pharmacy permit in the state of Florida.”
U.S. health regulators confirmed on Thursday the presence of the deadly Exserohilum fungus in vials of the NECC steroid used for the pain injections. They estimate that as many as 14,000 people may have been exposed to the contaminated medication.
Three potentially contaminated lots of the drug, methylprednisolone, were shipped to 76 facilities in 23 states. After confirming contamination in one of the three lots, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC said they were checking the other two lots for the fungus, as well as additional injectable NECC drugs as a precautionary measure.
A Tennessee clinic that received more potentially contaminated steroid than any facility in the nation has temporarily closed to cope with the fallout from the outbreak. The Nashville clinic received 2,000 vials of the NECC drug.
Federal authorities are investigating how NECC supplied hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers with large orders of compounded drugs and whether it violated state laws regulating pharmacies.
The FDA and CDC said that about 97 percent of potentially exposed patients have been contacted so far. The agencies cautioned doctors and patients to be on the lookout for potential meningitis symptoms for months after injections.
According to a paper published online on Thursday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, based on a 2002 outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to contaminated steroids, the incubation period from exposure could be up to six months.
Doctors have warned that early diagnosis and treatment with a powerful anti-fungal drug is vital to prevent meningitis from attacking the brain.