New Fungal Meningitis Cases and Spinal Infections Continue to Baffle Doctors

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In all, 590 people in 19 states have become ill with meningitis or another infection as a result of the tainted steroid injections manufactured by the New England Compounding Company. Of those, 368 were fungal meningitis and 192 were spinal infections without meningitis. Other ailment categories included strokes and joint infections.

Perplexingly, the fungal meningitis case tally reached 475 cases on Nov. 19, but some cases have been reclassified as spinal infections, Chiller said. The CDC started dividing meningitis cases into meningitis cases and spinal infections only on Nov. 26, causing the meningitis count to drop to 360 (including secondary spinal infections) and the spinal infection count to begin at 128 that day.

Michigan reported about 78 percent of all spinal infections in the nation, largely because doctors there had been performing more precautionary MRIs, said Dr. Varsha Moudgal, an infectious disease specialist at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Most of Moudgal's patients told her they felt increased pain when they developed spinal abscesses, but some said they didn't feel anything different. Many patients already had back and neck pain, which masked the pain from their spinal abscesses. Moudgal and other doctors began using a broader criterion for deciding which patients needed an MRI, and they found more patients with spinal infections.

Of 161 patients treated at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital who'd received tainted steroid injections, 17 had fungal meningitis only, 65 had fungal abscesses only and 36 had meningitis and fungal abscesses, hospital spokeswoman Laura Blodgett said.

Nov. 17 was the day Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital had its most tainted injection inpatients, Blodgett said. There were 79 of them that day.

The hospital had 54 inpatients last week when Rye and his wife finally left Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital. As Rye was gathering his things to go home, his nurse's eyes welled up. She hugged him, hugged his wife and hugged him again.

"She said, 'I'm going to miss you guys, but it's a good miss,'" Rye said.

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