Fourteen Deaths Linked to Fungal Meningitis from Tainted Injections

This week you’ll have to learn a little medical jargon, and I know that you love that. The meninges (men-IN-jees) are the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is inflammation of those membranes, usually caused by an infection. Meningitis can lead to brain damage, deafness, and sometimes death. Meningitis is usually caused by viruses or bacteria. OK? That wasn’t so bad.

Recently an outbreak of meningitis has come under the attention of investigators. 170 patients in the last few months have been diagnosed with meningitis due to a fungus. This is strange because fungi are a very rare cause of meningitis. Investigators tracked the infection to contaminated vials of a steroid medication (methylprednisolone) prepared by New England Compounding Center (NECC), a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.

The medication is used to administer epidural injections – injections into the spine intended to relieve back pain. This presumably introduced the contaminating fungus directly into the spinal fluid and resulted in meningitis.

Three lots of potentially contaminated medication have been recalled by NECC. Health officials have determined that about 14,000 people may have been injected with the medication since May 21. About 12,000 of the patients have already been contacted and informed. As of yesterday 14 have died of fungal meningitis. Two different fungus species have been isolated from sick patients, Exserohilum (pictured above) and Aspergillus.

Some of the medication was also used to inject painful joints, and one fungal ankle infection was found in a patient who earlier received an injection into that ankle.

There are four facilities in California which received medication from NECC that was later recalled: Cypress Surgery Center in Visalia, Encino Outpatient Surgicenter in Encino, Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Ukiah, and Universal Pain Management in Palmdale. (“>Fungal meningitis outbreak: Death toll hits 14; Idaho reports case (Los Angeles Times)
“>Meningitis Deaths Increase (Wall Street Journal)