The meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroids has killed 15 people and infected 231 as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the situation is not improving.
“We’re nowhere near the end of this problem,” says Vanderbilt University Medical Center expert Dr. William Schaffner. “We will see more patients reporting in ill and we’ll have to treat many more going forward.”
14,000 People at Risk
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration found fungus in sealed vials of a steroid manufactured by the New England Compounding Center (NECC) based in Massachusetts. The spinal steroids are typically used to relieve back pain, but the fungal contamination has caused non-contagious fungal meningitis. The condition affects the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord, causing headache, fever, nausea, stiffness of the neck, confusion, dizziness, and aversion to light.
Of the 23 states that ordered medications from the compounding facility in question, only 8 have not reported at least one case of fungal meningitis. Authorities say that almost 14,000 people received injections of the steroid and may develop the potentially deadly condition.
Other Drugs Possibly Contaminated
To make matters worse, the FDA is investigating other drugs that may have been contaminated at the facility. Two patients administered different steroids than the one aforementioned have reported possible fungal meningitis infection—one injected during open heart surgery, and the other injected with triamcinolone, yet another steroid.
FDA official Janet Woodcock reassures the public that “there’s a good probability they are not linked,” but it isn’t helping NECC’s reputation. The facility is already being sued by numerous victims, and a congressman is calling for an even deeper investigation.
NECC in Hot Water
NECC, like all compounding facilities, produces drugs based on a single patient’s individual needs as described by a physician. Reuters uncovered evidence, however, that NECC broke state law when they failed to request individual patient prescriptions along with bulk orders from physicians.
Massachusetts Democratic congressman Edward Markey referenced this breach when he demanded for a probe of NECC, this time regarding potentially addictive, “controlled” drugs.
“This is a matter that I believe requires further investigation by the [Drug Enforcement Agency] to ensure that this facility, already believed to have broken Massachusetts state law, has not also skirted federal law related to controlled substances.”
If you have received a steroid injection and experience symptoms of fungal meningitis, seek medical help immediately. Dr. Schaffner says the symptoms are rarely mild and patients have a greater chance of survival if treated early.