Hundreds of people have fallen ill and dozens of people have died in a nationwide outbreak of non-contagious fungal meningitis. The disease has been linked to medicines produced by New England Compounding Center. The company has issued a recall of all lots of all medicines due to potential fungal contamination. However, the outbreak continues to grow because fungal meningitis has an incubation period of several weeks.
November 26, 2012 — The current case count from the CDC involves 490 cases of fungal meningitis, 12 peripheral joint infections, and 34 deaths in 19 states. The number of illnesses in New Hampshire has grown to 13 cases of fungal meningitis with 4 peripheral joint infections.
November 5, 2012 — The number of infections in New Hampshire has grown to 12 people, including 4 fungal joint infections. The nationwide total is 419 illnesses (including 10 joint infections) and 30 deaths in 19 states. As the incubation period ends, it is likely that the number of new cases will taper off. However, people with the disease may continue to require treatment for several months or more.
October 26, 2012 — The outbreak of fungal meningitis continues to spread, with more cases of joint infections. In New Hampshire, the number of illnesses has grown to 11 people. The CDC reports a total of 338 infections, including 7 peripheral joint infections and 331 cases of meningitis, stroke, or central nervous system infection. Of these, at least 25 people have died in 18 states.
October 25, 2012 — The CDC is reporting 328 infections linked to contaminated medicines (including 5 peripheral joint infections and 323 cases of fungal meningitis, stroke, or infection) including 24 deaths in 18 states.
October 24, 2012 — The number of illnesses in New Hampshire remains constant at 10. The CDC reports that, nationwide, 317 people have been infected (312 cases of fungal meningitis, stroke, or central nervous system infection, and 5 cases of peripheral joint infections), 24 people have died in 17 states. CDC is reporting that new cases are more mild. It has been more than 1 month since NECC medicines were recalled; fungal meningitis has an unknown incubation period and illnesses could continue.
October 23, 2012 — The CDC is reporting 308 cases (including 304 cases of fungal meningitis, stroke, or other central nervous system infection, and 4 cases of peripheral joint infections). Of these, 23 people have died in 17 states.
October 22, 2012 — In New Hampshire, 10 people have fallen ill in an outbreak of fungal meningitis. The CDC is reporting that the number of illnesses has grown to 297 (including 294 cases of fungal meningitis and 3 peripheral joint infections) and 23 deaths. The number of states involved remains at 16.
October 19, 2012 — The CDC is reporting that, nationwide, 271 people have fallen ill (including 268 cases of fungal meningitis or stroke, and 3 joint infections). Of these, at least 21 have died. 16 states are involved in the outbreak.
October 18, 2012 — In New Hampshire, 8 people have been sickened in the outbreak of fungal meningitis. Nationwide, 257 people in 16 states have fallen ill (including 254 with fungal meningitis, stroke, or infection, and 3 with peripheral joint infections), and 20 people have died.
October 17, 2012 — In New Hampshire, at least 6 infections have been confirmed. Nationwide, 247 people have fallen ill (including 245 cases of fungal meningitis, stroke, or other central-nervous system fungal infection; and 2 joint infections). Of these, 19 people have died in 15 states.
October 16, 2012 — The number of illnesses has grown to 6 in New Hampshire. Nationwide, 233 people have been infected — including 231 cases of fungal meningitis and 2 cases of joint infections. At least 15 people have died in 15 states.
October 15, 2012 — At least 4 illnesses have been confirmed in New Hampshire. Nationwide, the CDC is reporting 214 illnesses (212 cases of fungal meningitis with 2 cases of joint infections) and 15 deaths in 15 different states.
Fungal Meningitis Outbreak in New Hampshire
Several people have fallen ill with meningitis after being treated with contaminated epidural steroid injections (commonly used to treat pain) at the following New Hampshire clinics:
- Dr. O’Connell’s Pain Care Center: Merrimack, Somersworth
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traced the first case to May 21, 2012. Nationwide, the CDC estimates that 14,000 people were exposed to potentially tainted medications. The CDC has recommended that physicians contact patients who may have been exposed. However, patients who are concerned should contact their physician to find out if they received a recalled medicine from New England Compounding Center.
New England Compounding Center Recalls Medicine
New England Compounding Center initially recalled three lots of methylprednisolone acetate (an injectable steroid shot used to treat back pain) on September 26. This recall was expanded on October 5 to include all lots of all medicines produced by the facility.
The majority of the illnesses have been linked to the methylprednisolone acetate. However, health officials have identified a few illnesses that may have been caused by other medications from New England Compounding Center (NECC). Several patients received medicines from NECC during open heart surgery, and subsequently became infected with the Aspergillus fungus, which has been implicated in the outbreak.
Symptoms of Fungal Meningitis Infections
Fungal meningitis (unlike bacterial and viral meningitis) is not contagious. However, it is a very serious disease. It occurs when a fungus infects a person’s meninges, which is the membrane around the brain and spinal cord. Severe cases can cause neurological impairment, stroke, abscess, and death. Most people require prolonged hospitalization and aggressive treatment with anti-fungal medications.
Fungal meningitis symptoms:
- Headache that gets worse
- Nausea, vomiting
- Neck stiffness
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Changes in mental status
- And more
Health officials are also concerned about other types of infections. New England Compounding Center recalled medications that are used in many different types of procedures — including eye surgery, heart surgery, pain management, and more. Therefore, patients who have been exposed may be at risk of other infections, in addition to fungal meningitis.
Other infections may have the following symptoms:
- Increasing amount of pain, redness, or warmth at the site of the injection
- Changes to vision
- Eye discharge, redness
- Pain in the chest
- Fluid drainage from the site of surgery
- And more