Meningitis Outbreak: 331 Cases, 25 Deaths, 7 Joint Infections

VIDEO: Two more people have died from fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections.
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Another person has died from fungal meningitis in an outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections, bringing the total to 25 deaths, health officials reported today.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased the tally of cases to 338: 331 cases of fungal meningitis and seven cases of joint infections. South Carolina became the 18th state affected by the outbreak on Sunday.

For a map of cases by state, click here. The outbreak has been linked to contaminated vials of methylprednisolone acetate, an injectable steroid used to treat back and joint pain. Sealed vials of the steroid, made by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., contained exserohilum rostratum, a fungus found in soil and plants. It's unclear how the fungus landed in the sealed vials.

The New England Compounding Center has recalled all its products and shut down operations earlier this month.

A quarter of the steroid vials in a bin at the New England Compounding Center contained "greenish black foreign matter," according to an FDA form released today. The form went on to identify several clean rooms -- where sterile products are produced -- that had either mold or bacterial overgrowths.

As many as 14,000 patients are thought to have received injections of the suspect steroid.

Seventy-six clinics in 23 states that received methylprednisolone acetate from the recalled lots have been instructed to notify all affected patients. The "potentially contaminated injections were given starting May 21, 2012," according to the CDC.

For a full list of clinics receiving the recalled lots of spinal steroid injections, click here.

Meningitis affects the membranous lining of the brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms of fungal meningitis -- including headache, fever, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, weakness or numbness, slurred speech and pain, and redness or swelling at the injection site -- can take more than a month to appear.

The longest duration from the time of injection to the onset of symptoms in the current outbreak is 42 days, according to the CDC's Dr. Benjamin Park.

"But we want to emphasize that we don't know what the longest will be," he added, stressing that patients who received injections of the recalled drug should stay attuned to the subtle symptoms "for months."

Fungal meningitis is diagnosed through a spinal tap, which draws cerebrospinal fluid from the spine that can be inspected for signs of the disease. Once detected, it can be treated with high doses of intravenous antifungal medications.

Unlike bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis is not transmitted from person to person and only people who received the steroid injections are thought to be at risk.

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