Meningitis Outbreak Updates and Insights

Yahoo Contributor Network

Physicians, health experts, and public health officials continue to grapple with the ongoing outbreak of fungal meningitis related to contaminated vials of an injectable steroid medication. Some nearly 14,000 people who may have been inadvertently exposed to the infection wait with bated breath to see if they, too, may develop the potentially life-threatening illness. In some ways, there is still more unknown than known about this infection, particularly: When will the potentially infected be safe from developing the actual infection of fungal meningitis?

Current Meningitis Outbreak Statistics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the current number of reported cases of fungal meningitis to be 354, in 19 states , with 25 deaths having resulted. The 18 states that have reported active cases of the non-contagious infection are: Michigan (82), Tennessee (74), Indiana (44), Virginia (43), Florida (22), Maryland (19), New Jersey (18), Ohio (13), New Hampshire (11), Minnesota (9), North Carolina (2), Georgia (1), Idaho (1), Illinois (1), New York (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Carolina (1) and Texas (1).

Seven of the 18 states, Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, have had people who succumbed to the meningitis.

State and federal health officials are also monitoring fungal infections in peripheral joints such as knees, hips and elbows where injections provided directly into the joints may have contained contaminated material. To date, only Michigan and New Hampshire have reported these types of infections.

Doctors' Ongoing Concerns

The Wall Street Journal reports that even as the meningitis outbreak has so far stretched into a four-week duration, doctors are still unsure as to what symptoms a person may present to indicate he is sick or even whether the antifungal medications that are being given to the ill patients are working.

Dr. Thomas Kerkering, section chief of infectious medicine at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, a man who has spent at least part of his career researching effective treatments for fungal infections, shared with the WSJ that he shares the same concerns as his fellow practitioners in determining what the next step should be, when discharge is appropriate, and what after-care should be planned.

Public health officials are also trying to make sense of the data collected from all the reported cases and will work with clinicians to find patterns that may lead to improved knowledge as each day passes.

Meningitis Outbreak as Seen via an Infectious Disease Doctor's Eyes

Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease specialist writing for Memphis Commercial Appeal, explained that the current meningitis outbreak provides an insight into the importance of the nation's public health infrastructure and to learn ways to improve it. Going forward, Jain cites four main factors that would positively impact the public health system and the nation as a whole: 1) Have improved direct communication between health care providers and health departments, including lab systems and electronic medical records; 2) Improved enforcement of existing laws and guidelines related to potential infection sources; 3) Public reporting of all infections in hospitals and outpatient settings in all states; and 4) Increased taxpayer funding to ensure public health departments have the staff and updated equipment to deal with information, research and services.

Bottom Line

Even as the meningitis outbreak continues, it provides learning opportunities for the professionals who deal with it -- perhaps with the potential to prevent such a situation from developing in the future.

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