Meningitis Outbreak: 308 Cases, 23 Deaths

PHOTO: Vials of the injectable steroid product made by New England Compounding Center implicated in a fungal meningitis outbreak.
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Ten more people have been diagnosed with fungal meningitis in an outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections, health officials reported today.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased the tally of cases to 308: 304 cases of fungal meningitis and four cases of joint infections. One of the new cases is in Georgia, the 17th state affected by the outbreak that has killed 23 people.

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. Calls to the owners were not immediately returned.

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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