Contaminated Medication Believed to Be Cause of National Fungal Meningitis Outbreak, Including Over Twenty Florida Cases
Federal and state officials believe that a contaminated medication from a Massachusetts pharmacy is responsible for an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed at least twenty-four people and sickened more than three hundred. The pharmacy has ceased operations and issued a recall of the medication, and lawsuits against it have already begun. In some cases, victims are suing their health care providers along with the pharmacy in an interesting blend of products liability and medical malpractice theories.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reportedly identified an infectious fungal species, Exserohilum rostratum, in multiple victims. This species can infect the spinal cord, causing fungal meningitis. Unlike the bacterial or viral varieties of meningitis, the fungal kind is not contagious between people. It spreads by direct contact with an infected surface or substance, such as soil, or through direct introduction to the bloodstream, such as through an injection. Symptoms often begin with a sore, stiff neck, and patients can develop headaches, nausea and vomiting, fever, confusion, and photophobia. In some cases, an infection can result in long-term injury or death.
As of October 24, 2012, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had received reports of 328 cases of fungal meningitis, including twenty-four fatalities, in eighteen states. Florida has twenty-two reported cases, with three deaths. Vials of the injectable drug methylprednisolone acetate appear to be the source of the infection. The drug is a steroid-based anti-inflammatory prescribed for the treatment of back pain. The vials originated from the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, Massachusetts, according to health officials.