As the case count continued to rise in a multistate outbreak of meningitis linked to a tainted drug, federal health officials emphasized Friday that it was absolutely essential to find everyone who may have been exposed to the drug, which was used in spinal injections for back pain.
"All patients who may have received these medications need to be tracked down immediately," Dr. Benjamin Park, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. "It is possible that if patients with infection are identified soon and put on appropriate antifungal therapy, lives may be saved."
Health officials said they were concerned that some patients who initially had mild symptoms did not realize they needed medical attention. But this type of meningitis, caused by a fungus, can become very severe, so there is an urgent need for treatment.
Doctors urged anyone who had a spinal injection for pain in the past few months to contact a doctor if they became ill, particularly with symptoms that include a new or worsening headache, fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea, slurred speech or loss of balance. The medical name for the injections is a lumbar epidural steroid injection.
Fungal meningitis does not spread from person to person.
By Friday, there were 47 cases in seven states, including five deaths — an increase of 12 cases since Thursday.
Michigan became the seventh state to report cases, with four. Tennessee's cases now total 29; Virginia, six; Indiana, 3; two each in Maryland and Florida and one in North Carolina. Three people have died in Tennessee and one in Virginia and Maryland.