Fungal meningitis patient files lawsuit against makers of tainted steroid shots
Back pain from a traffic accident in January sent Vilinda York to the Marion Pain Clinic on August 16, where she received two steroid shots. A week later the pain was still there, but she also had a headache, was nauseous, and felt dizzy. Headaches can be a side effect with any epidural shot, so she thought nothing of going back on August 28 and having a third shot. That’s when her symptoms went from bad to worse.
“I couldn’t walk well, I couldn’t see good, and I could wipe the sweat off my arms,” she told NBC News. Her headaches became unbearable, shooting sharp pains in all directions in her skull. When her arms and legs grew numb, and that numbness crept up to her waist, she called 911. It was September 27, a month since her last steroid shot.
Medical professionals initially thought Vilinda had bacterial meningitis, but when she mentioned the steroid shots she had received in August, doctors began assembling a theory. Two days earlier the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts, recalled three lots of the injectable steroid methylprednisolone acetate – the same steroid shot Vilinda received at the Marion Pain Clinic. And, health officials noted, the clinic had received some of the recalled injections.
A doctor from the clinic had tears in her eyes when she visited Vilinda in the hospital and told her the shots were contaminated with a fungus that was the suspected source of a multistate outbreak of rare fungal meningitis.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that encase the brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis is extremely rare and is extremely difficult to diagnose unless doctors know what to look for. It can be treated with antifungal medication, but if left untreated it can cause permanent neurological damage and death.
An estimated 14,000 people in 23 states have been exposed to the contaminated steroids. To date, 297 people have become infected in 16 states, and 23 have died. NECC has since recalled all other products it has produced and has closed operations as federal officials conduct an investigation. Investigators are also looking into the possibility of other NECC products causing similar infections but have not yet determined the risk.
Vilinda is still recovering in the hospital, where she has been since September 27. Doctors have paused treatment with antifungal medications because the drugs were beginning to take a toll on her liver and other organs. She hopes she can recover fully, but it could take months – or even years – for her to regain her strength. In the meantime, she is fighting the best way she can. She has filed a lawsuit against NECC.
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