Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Linked to Steroids Kills 7, Infects 91

The outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections for back pain has killed seven people and infected 91 people in nine states, U.S. health officials reported Sunday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting an ongoing investigation into a rare form of fungal meningitis that has sickened 91, an increase of 27 cases from Saturday. In many cases, patients contracted aspergillus meningitis after receiving epidural steroid injections that contained fungus. This form of meningitis is not known to be contagious.

On Sunday, the CDC reported on the total number of fungal meningitis cases across nine states: Florida: 4 cases; Indiana: 8 cases; Maryland: 3 cases, including 1 death; Michigan: 20 cases, including 2 deaths; Minnesota: 3 cases; North Carolina: 2 cases; Ohio: 1 case; Tennessee: 32 cases, including 3 deaths; Virginia: 18 cases, including 1 death.

The steroid linked to the outbreak is known as methylprednisolone acetate, which is given to patients who suffer back pain. The steroid manufacturer, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., has shut down operations pending investigation and on Saturday recalled all of its products from the facility. The specialty pharmacy has shipped over 17,000 vials of steroids to 76 clinics in 23 states over the past few months.

The pharmacy company, according to its website, said it voluntarily recalled all of its products "out of an abundance of caution" because of the "potential risk of contamination."

States which has received the implicated steroid product include: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and West Virginia.

The CDC is cautioning anyone who received a steroid injection and experiencing the following symptoms to seek immediate medical attention: fever, new or worsening headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, new weakness or numbness, increasing pain, redness or swelling of the injection site.

Fungal meningitis occurs when the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord are infected with a fungus.  Fungal meningitis can develop after a fungus spreads through the bloodstream from somewhere else in the body, as a result of the fungus being introduced directly into the central nervous system, or by direct extension from an infected body site next to the central nervous system.