An outbreak of a special kind of meningitis has killed five people and sickened over 30 more. The outbreak spans five states, including Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana. In Virginia, three people have developed illnesses and one person has died. All cases have been contained to Southwest Virginia. That region includes Lynchburg, Roanoke and Danville.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is citing a drug used in epidural steroid injections as the cause. The drug, methylprednisolone acetate, comes from the Massachusetts-based pharmacy, New England Compounding Center, and is said to be tainted with Aspergillus fungus. The compounding center recalled the drug on Sept. 26, after reported illnesses in Tennessee.
Dr. Dave Trump with the Virginia Department of Health says the fungus in the drug may be causing the special type of meningitis. Meningitis attacks the central nervous system, causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Dr. Trump says this type of meningitis is not contagious, but it is slow-forming. Symptoms may not appear for one to four weeks, or longer.
Two outpatient facilities in Southwest Virginia are said to have used the drug in question. Insight Imaging in Roanoke has confirmed their facility used the drug from July through September of this year. They are in the process of notifying their patients who have recently had epidural steroid injections. They will not be conducting any more injections until the source of the meningitis outbreak has been confirmed. They have recommended that if any of their patients experience any symptoms of meningitis to seek medical attention.
LewisGale Medical Center in Salem and LewisGale Alleghany is receiving patients who believe they have been impacted by the tainted drug. Thursday, they received 18 patients with symptoms. In the past 48 hours two patients have tested positive for meningitis. A third person who tested positive for meningitis passed away several weeks ago. The hospital will do further tests to determine if the patients have fungal meningitis. All patients with confirmed meningitis have had recent epidural steroid injections.
Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital is also receiving patients. So far they have confirmed seven cases of meningitis. They are currently evaluating another 12 people to see if they have meningitis.
Dr. Trump says although the cases have appeared in only five states, shipments of the product were sent to 23 other states. He expects the cases to grow as time goes on, but does not know how big the outbreak will get. The New England Compounding Center is under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has recalled all of its products.
Symptoms of meningitis include: dizziness, fevers, problems with balance, nausea, slurred speech, weakness, severe headaches and stroke.