Five now dead from meningitis outbreak; source lab shut down

Five now dead from meningitis outbreak; source lab shut down

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Many of the Nashville victims received injections at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville. Many of the Nashville victims received injections at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville.
"Fungal meningitis is unusual," said Dr. Jeff Staack. "Fungal meningitis is unusual," said Dr. Jeff Staack.

NASHVILLE (WATE) - The scope of the meningitis outbreak continued to widen Thursday as more cases and more deaths were reported, both in and outside of Tennessee.

Three people have now died in Tennessee and at least five are dead nationwide.

The outbreak has been traced to six states with 35 cases reported, 25 of which are in Tennessee.

The Food and Drug Administration identified the maker of the steroid as New England Compounding Center (NECC), a specialty pharmacy in Framingham, Mass.

The Tennessee Department of Health said everyone who received a potentially contaminated injection has been notified to be on the look out for symptoms because catching and treating fungal meningitis early could mean the difference between life and death.

"Fungal meningitis is unusual," said Dr. Jeff Staack, an anesthesiologist at the University of Tennessee Medical Center who gives steroid shots into the spine, usually for back pain. "We're taking the needle and we're going right down to the central nervous system. It's a direct highway to the central nervous system, the spine and the brain."

Dr. Staack said the fungus identified in some of the meningitis patients normally wouldn't cause people with healthy immune systems to get sick.

"Aspergillus is a relatively common fungus in the air all around us. How it got into these drugs is unknown," Staack said. "Where this drug was being placed, I think it's made it harder for the normal immune system to find it and fight it."

UT Medical Center has confirmed they received no steroid injections from New England Compounding Center.

Health officials nave now urged doctors to avoid all products manufactured by the company.

Last week, NECC issued a recall of three lots of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate. In a statement, the company said it had voluntarily suspended operations and was working with regulators to identify the source of the infection.

Compounding pharmacies mix ingredients for customized medicines that generally aren't commercially available. They are regulated by states.

Federal officials did not release condition reports or details on all the patients. Fungal meningitis is treated with high-dose antifungal medications, usually given intravenously in a hospital.

The fungal form of meningitis is not contagious.

Any patients who received a steroid injection between July 1 and Sept. 28 at one of these clinics - PCA Pain Care Center in Oak Ridge, Specialty Surgery Center in Crossville or Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville - should be on the lookout for possible symptoms.

Symptoms of fungal meningitis include: worsening to severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fevers. Other symptoms can include slurred speech, unsteady gait, urinary retention, weakness, sensory deficit. 

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