Meningitis Outbreak Causes Concerns

October 25, 2012

A recent outbreak of fungal meningitis has been making news across the country. These infections have been linked to a specific, contaminated injectable steroid that was produced at the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. This tainted medication, which was used to treat back pain, was shipped to 76 facilities in 23 states. Officials state it may have been administered to as many as 14,000 patients prior to its recall.
As of October 23, 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the outbreak has risen to a total of 308 cases spread over 17 states. The number of deaths from fungal meningitis currently stands at 23. Cases have been reported in Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The fungal meningitis infections in this recent outbreak are not contagious to others, only individuals who have had epidural injections with this specific medication are at risk. People who have received injections of the contaminated steroid should seek medical treatment ASAP if they develop symptoms such as back pain, nausea, or headaches. Early identification and treatment of fungal meningitis greatly improves the chances of surviving this life threatening infection.
Meningitis is a condition in which the protective membranes, called meninges, that cover the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. This inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. A test called a spinal tap samples spinal fluid so it can be studied to determine if the infection is due to a virus, a bacteria or a fungus.
Meningitis infections caused by bacteria are extremely aggressive infections that can cause serious consequences including brain damage and death. An immunization to protect against bacterial meningitis is available. The initial dose of this vaccine is recommended for all children age 11 to 12 years old. A second dose should be administered at age 16. The meningitis vaccine is also recommended for adults with any medical condition that weakens their immune system.
Enteroviruses are the most common viruses that cause viral meningitis. Viral meningitis infections, in a previously healthy person, will resolve on their own after 7-10 days. Patients will typically just receive supportive care to help reduce the symptoms of their infection.
Because the severity of the illness can vary widely depending on the cause of meningitis, any patient experiencing sudden onset of fever, headache and neck stiffness should be comprehensively evaluated immediately so that any treatment needed can be started right away.

Cynthia Vanson, MD
Assistant Medical Director, Urgent Care of Conneticut

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