Thursday, June 21, 2018

CDC officials race clock against rare meningitis

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials have tracked down 12,000 of the roughly 14,000 people who may have received contaminated steroid shots in the nation's deadly outbreak of rare fungal meningitis.

Health officials warned Thursday that patients will need to keep watch for symptoms of the infection for months.

"We know that we are not out of the woods yet," Dr. J. Todd Weber of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as the death toll reached 14, including a second victim in Florida.

Two men, ages 83 and 70, have died in Marion County, and state health officials say Florida now has seven cases of the illness.

The 83-year-old man had been injected with the contaminated steroid at the Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala, Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of Health John Armstrong said at a news conference Thursday.

Three pain clinics in Marion County — the Florida Pain Clinic, the Surgery Center of Ocala and the Marion Pain Management Center — unknowingly received the tainted medication. A 48-year-old man in Marion County is the latest Florida patient to be diagnosed with the illness.

Armstrong says officials have identified 735 of the 775 people in Florida who received contaminated injections.

"We're still discovering what we're up against," said Dr. Benjamin Park, who is leading the CDC investigation in Atlanta.

Dr. John Jernigan, a CDC epidemiologist, has assembled a team of the world's leading experts in fungal infections. They spent Tuesday clarifying which patients are in the gravest danger. Many of those afflicted with the disease are elderly, he said.

The bad news is that new cases are emerging virtually every day. Patients may not feel symptoms for up to a month after the steroid injections, which officials believe were administered between May and September.

"We expect to hear about more deaths," Park said.

Of the 170 people sickened in the outbreak, all but one have the fungal form of meningitis after receiving suspect steroid shots for back pain, the CDC said. The other case is an ankle infection discovered in Michigan; steroid shots also can be given to treat aching knees, shoulders or other joints.

Fungus has been found in at least 50 vials of an injectable steroid medication made at a specialty compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, investigators said. Health authorities haven't yet said how they think the medication was contaminated, but they have ruled out other suspects — other products used in administering the shots — and the focus continues to be on that pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center.

Health officials are hurriedly trying to determine the best way to treat this kind of illness, and have settled on two very strong anti-fungal medications. Consulting with experts, they're making a best guess as to the dosage and length of time patients will have to be treated.

"This is new territory," Weber said.

The fungus behind the outbreaks was initially identified as Aspergillus, but as more testing of patients has been completed, it has become clear that another fungus — a kind of black mold called Exserohilum — is the primary cause. As of Wednesday, CDC's fungal disease laboratory confirmed Exserohilum in 10 people with meningitis and Aspergillus in just one.

Exserohilum is common in dirt and grasses, but this is the first time it has been identified as the cause of meningitis, said Weber of the CDC.

Fungal meningitis is not contagious like the more common forms.

Symptoms of meningitis include severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. The CDC said many of the cases have been mild. Symptoms have been appearing between one and four weeks after patients got the shots, but CDC officials on Thursday warned at least one illness occurred 42 days after a shot.

The fungus is difficult to grow in lab analyses, and health officials on Thursday issued an unusual piece of advice to doctors: If a patient who got the injection starts to develop meningitis symptoms, he or she should be treated, even if testing is negative for the fungus.

The CDC emergency operations center has marshaled more than 100 workers to gather information from health agencies in the affected states, hone treatment options and help local health workers contact the thousands who may have been infected. In the CDC's labs, workers are extracting DNA from samples of spinal fluid and running tests to determine who is infected.

Compounding pharmacies traditionally supply products that aren't commercially available, unlike the steroid at issue in the outbreak. And Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said it appears the company violated state law governing those pharmacies, which aren't supposed to do large-scale production like a drug manufacturer.

Company officials earlier this week declined comment except to say they were cooperating with the investigation.

Information from the Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Ocala Star-Banner was used in this report.

Comments
Who funded this negative ad campaign in the Florida governor’s race? We may never know.

Who funded this negative ad campaign in the Florida governor’s race? We may never know.

An out of state SuperPAC that funded a negative television ad campaign in May in the Florida governor’s race disclosed who paid for the campaign in filings Wednesday.The answer? That same group’s 501(c)(4) branch — which doesn’...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
WTR Pool and Grille brings ‘fun dining’ pool party scene to Tampa

WTR Pool and Grille brings ‘fun dining’ pool party scene to Tampa

Mike Piper has traveled to Las Vegas and Miami and enjoyed the fun, daytime, party pool scene that the two cities have to offer.Now he aims to bring that same atmosphere to Tampa with a new dining and hang out spot. WTR Pool & Grill opened on Sunday ...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Grace Family Church gives thrift stores an upgrade in South Tampa

Grace Family Church gives thrift stores an upgrade in South Tampa

A new resale store has made its way to South Tampa. Grace Family Church recently opened Vintage Etc., to provide affordable, quality merchandise to the community and continue its outreach to help families in need in a loving Christian environment. "W...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
2.4 million Floridians expected to travel for Fourth of July

2.4 million Floridians expected to travel for Fourth of July

Summer has officially started and so have summer travel plans. About 2.4 million Floridians are expected to travel for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, up 6.3 percent from last year, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group."We are already seeing a b...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Taylor Morrison builds in Wesley Chapel

Taylor Morrison builds in Wesley Chapel

Taylor Morrison will build a new subdivision off of Boyette Road between Wesley Chapel Boulevard and Overpass Road.The builder and developer recently broke ground on Chapel Chase, set on approximately 40 acres just north of New Tampa in Pasco County....
Updated: 1 hour ago
Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

TAMPA — Two of the city’s hottest developers — the groups behind Ulele and the Armature Works — are heading to court over an old city building that sits between the hit eateries.Both want to redevelop the city’s former office of cable communications ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Is Chronister the right man at the right time?; Luke Bryan chats ahead of his Tampa show; and more

Top 5 at noon: Is Chronister the right man at the right time?; Luke Bryan chats ahead of his Tampa show; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.NEW SHERIFF WON OVER THOSE IN POWER. THE VOTERS? THEY DON’T GET A SAYRepublican Chad Chronister was appointed Hillsborough’s top cop after 26 years with the office. Is he the right man at the ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Grain and Berry Cafe to bring its healthy menu to USF area

Grain and Berry Cafe to bring its healthy menu to USF area

Grain & Berry Cafe opened in Palm Harbor, and now the healthy eatery is rapidly expanding throughout the Tampa Bay area.The healthy eatery opened a new location on E Fowler Ave near the University of South Florida in May, just 10 months after opening...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Weeki Wachee man arrested after search warrant turns up drugs, thousands of vape cartridges

Weeki Wachee man arrested after search warrant turns up drugs, thousands of vape cartridges

A Weeki Wachee man faces drug charges after deputies said a search of his home Wednesday turned up nearly three pounds of marijuana, more than three pounds of hashish wax and more than 3,000 hashish oil cartridges for vape pens.Devin Alexander Volkes...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rick Stroud weighs in on report about possible Jameis Winston suspension

Rick Stroud weighs in on report about possible Jameis Winston suspension

Tampa Bay Times beat reporter Rick Stroud isn't buying an ESPN radio report that any suspension levied against Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston by the NFL would stem from Winston's failure to report an alleged incident between him and a female Ub...
Updated: 1 hour ago