Death toll rises to 20, infections to 254 in fungal meningitis outbreak
Another person has died from meningitis after receiving a steroid shot contaminated with a fungus, bringing the death toll of the fungal meningitis outbreak to 20. Health officials have also upped the number of reported infections to 254, including the first in New York, the 16th state with confirmed infections.
All patients had received steroid injections. The shots were manufactured by New England Compounding Center (NECC), a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts. Nearly 18,000 vials of the steroid were distributed to 23 states beginning in late May, and an estimated 14,000 people received the medication.
Health officials have confirmed earlier this week that vials of the steroid made and distributed by NECC contained fungus. The steroid shots are commonly injected into the neck or spinal cord to treat back pain and are considered a safe treatment for pain management. However, the contaminated steroids allowed patients to be injected with fungus that for many patients began infecting the spinal cord and brain, a condition known as meningitis.
Meningitis is most commonly caused by bacteria or viruses, and can usually be easily detected with various tests. But fungal meningitis is extremely rare and thus more difficult to diagnose, which was the case for the first several patients who became ill. Symptoms of meningitis include severe headache, neck stiffness, fever, dizziness and nausea.
Fungal meningitis can be treated with antifungal medications, but treatment must be started early to be successful. If treatment is delayed, permanent neurological damage or death can occur. Health officials say that nearly all the patients who received the tainted injection have been notified.
Meanwhile, all products made and distributed by NECC have been recalled, and the pharmacy has ceased operations amid an investigation by FDA criminal officers and federal officials. Health officials are also looking into possible contamination with other NECC products.
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