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First Florida death in meningitis outbreak confirmed

TALLAHASSEE — State health officials say they've confirmed the first Florida death linked to a national meningitis outbreak.

The Florida Department of Health reported Tuesday that a 70-year-old man died in July, before the discovery of the contaminated steroid medication authorities have linked to the infection. Officials say there are now six total cases in Florida, all in Marion County.

The number of people sickened by a deadly meningitis outbreak has now reached 119 cases, including 11 deaths.

Gov. Rick Scott said earlier Tuesday that authorities had contacted nearly 700 of the 1,185 patients linked to facilities that got tainted medicine in Marion, Miami-Dade, Orange and Escambia counties.

Health officials say as many as 13,000 people nationwide may have received tainted shots, and about 17,700 single-dose vials sent to 23 states have been recalled.

"We are saddened by this news and share our condolences with his family and friends," said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong. "We will continue to work closely with our health partners to ensure that individuals who may have received the contaminated medicine are treated, and we have ensured that no medications from NECC, steroid or otherwise, are available in Florida."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the count on Tuesday.

The other states involved in the outbreak are Tennessee, Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio.

Officials have tied the outbreak of rare, noncontagious fungal meningitis to steroid shots for back pain. Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and a back injection would put any contaminant in more direct contact with that lining. The steroid — methylprednisolone acetate — was made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts. At least one contaminated vial was found at the company, the New England Compounding Center, registered as a pharmacy in Framingham. The company recalled the steroid that was sent to clinics in 23 states, and later recalled everything it makes.

Compounding pharmacists typically prepare medicines for individual patients at a doctor's request. But critics say some firms have become miniature drug companies, without the federal oversight that goes with them.

"This incident raises serious concerns about the scope of the practice of pharmacy compounding in the United States and the current patchwork of federal and state laws," said a statement by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over the Food and Drug Administration.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who represents the district where the New England Compounding Center is based, said he would introduce legislation requiring certain pharmacies that send products across state lines to register with the FDA. Currently, states oversee compounding pharmacies.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

First Florida death in meningitis outbreak confirmed 10/09/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 1:31am]

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