Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Now in 16 States

Total Meningitis Case Count at 257

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Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Now in 16 States
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Renee Galloway, a microbiologist in the Centers for Disease Control's Meningitis and Special Pathogens …

In what has turned out to be a real-life horror story for people who inadvertently received contaminated spinal injections and for the health care field in general, the news isn't getting any better. In its most recent update, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that there are now 257 confirmed cases of fungal meningitis, 20 of these cases have resulted in death and 16 states are currently included in the outbreak sites.

FDA Confirms Contaminated Injectable Steroids Match Sickened Patients

In a joint CDC/U.S. Food and Drug Administration announcement, it was confirmed that at least some of the patients who have developed fungal meningitis after receiving contaminated spinal injections match up with the type of fungus found to be the contaminating factor in the steroid solutions, reported the Associated Press. The causative fungus, exserohilum rostratum, found in the tainted vials produced and distributed by the New England Compounding Center, NECC, was also found to be the organism that has sickened 45 of the meningitis patients tested thus far.

Are Anti-Fungal Medications Being Given Prophylactically?

Although it might seem prudent to give anti-fungal medications to those who have been exposed to the fungus through injections of the tainted drugs, the CDC continues to remain steadfast in its recommendation to clinicians not to do so at this time. Perhaps when more information is known, both about the infections and the likelihood of developing the meningitis secondary to having received a contaminated infection, these recommendations may change.

As LiveScience.com points out, anti-fungal medication use comes with its own risks, such as kidney damage and hepatitis. Anti-fungal treatment is more long term than use of most antibiotics whose course of treatment lasts 3 to 14 days.

Exserohilum rostratum, the causative fungus, has never been associated with meningitis before, so there is much health experts don't know about any preventive measures -- they don't know that anti-fungal treatment given prophylactically would stop the illness from occurring or even how long such treatment would need to continue as a preventive measure.

What Should You Do if You Think You Are at Risk?

The CDC estimates that 90 percent of the 14,000 people potentially exposed to the contaminated spinal injections have been contacted by their health care providers. Providers have been unable to contact people who didn't leave a working phone number on their original paperwork for the procedure. If you think you might be one of those people, consider contacting the health center where you received the spinal injection; they will be able to provide the information you need.

Bottom Line

Health experts at all levels, federal, state and local are working together to provide the best information and guidance possible. At this time, it is unknown how long the current outbreak may last. Baby boomers and seniors who have had spinal injections in the period from May 21 through Sept. 26 should become familiar with and alert for the symptoms of fungal meningitis and report them promptly to their health care provider.

Smack dab in the middle of the baby boomer generation, L.L. Woodard is a proud resident of "The Red Man" state. With what he hopes is an everyman's view of life's concerns both in his state and throughout the nation, Woodard presents facts and opinions based on common-sense solutions.

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