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Know More About The Meningitis Outbreak

Updated on October 18, 2012

October is the month when we celebrate several health observances including MSRA Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Bullying Prevention Month, and so many more. The recent news about the multistate meningitis outbreak of fungal infections makes it more crucial to tackle such issue. I know that an uncle dies of meningitis when he was young, but does everybody really know what this disease is? Can anybody get it?

Types include:

Aseptic meningitis
Cryptococcal meningitis
Gram negative meningitis
H. influenza meningitis
Meningitis due to cancer (carcinomatous meningitis)
Meningococcal meningitis
Pneumococcal meningitis
Staphylococcal meningitis
Syphilitic aseptic meningitis
Tuberculous meningitis

What is Meningitis?

According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine:

Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

Usually, viral infections are what causes meningitis and this can be treated. There are times though that it can be intensely serious that even when treated it may still cause brain damage or death , especially in the case of bacterial meningitis infections.

Signs and symptoms of meningitis

fever
headache
stiff neck
nausea and vomiting
photophobia (sensitivity to light)
and altered mental status.

Possible causes:

Chemical irritation
Drug allergies
Fungi
Tumors

Current Situation

The current situation being investigated on is the meningitis outbreak of fungal infections among patients who are said to have received a steroid injection into the spinal area from a potentially contaminated product supplied by New England Compounding Center (NECC) of Framingham, Massachusetts. The steroid methylprednisolone acetate has brought a total of 214 cases and death toll to 15, as of October 15, 2012 9:00 PM EDT. It has been reported that the Massachusetts-based company has shipped these tainted vials to 29 states and 76 medical facilities.

So far, there are now 15 states who have reported cases of meningitis and these are: Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas, Idaho, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Florida.

According to the investigation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this type of meningitis is caused by fungi (Exserohilum and Aspergillus), which are actually common in the environment but rarely cause meningitis.

In cases of outbreak, people tend to panic especially if the illness is infectious or contagious. According to CDC, this form of fungal meningitis is not contagious.

Actions have been taken by concerned agencies, particularly the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Last October 4 they have advised providers to not use any NECC products. The guidance issued by the FDA to all medical professionals that all NECC products “should be retained, secured, and withheld from use.”

On October 6, NECC has recalled all of its products and a complete list can be accessed below.

Although this type of meningitis is not infectious, patients who have been injected or received NECC products produced by NECC after May 21, 2012 should be informed about the symptoms of possible infection. They should be instructed to immediately contact their doctors if they experience any of the symptoms mentioned above. They should be extra vigilant for the onset of symptoms especially since fungal infections tend to slowly develop. In this case, symptoms may appear 1 to 4 weeks following injection.

Important numbers

Report any suspected adverse events following use of these products to FDA's MedWatch program at 1-800-332-1088.

Health care professionals may dial FDA’s Drug Information Line at 855-543-DRUG (3784) and press * to get the most recent information regarding the meningitis recall and speak directly to a pharmacist.

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