Four new fungal meningitis cases in Florida linked to tainted steroid

Published Oct. 19, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — State health officials Friday reported four more confirmed cases of fungal meningitis associated with contaminated steroids used for back pain.

That brings Florida's total count to 17, including three deaths. Nationwide, more than 250 people have been sickened and 21 killed as part of the outbreak.

The state's newest confirmed cases include a 53-year-old woman who received treatment at Pain Consultants of West Florida in Escambia County and three women in Marion County, a 69-year old and a 71-year-old who received treatment at the Florida Pain Clinic in Ocala and a 73-year-old who received treatment at Marion Pain Management Center.

The contaminated steroids (methylprednisolone acetate) came from New England Compounding Center. Last month, three lots of the medication, which are used primarily for epidural back injections, were recalled. Six clinics in Florida had received and used those vials on more than 1,000 patients. None of the clinics is in the Tampa Bay area.

The Department of Health also said Friday that New England Compounding Center had relinquished its permit to operate as a pharmacy in Florida. The relinquishment is considered disciplinary action, meaning the company may never reapply for a pharmacy permit in Florida.

Earlier this month, the recall notice expanded to include a dozen injectable medications from New England Compounding Center. The federal government has advised health care facilities that used the company's medications, including for eye and heart surgeries, since May 21 should alert patients to be on the lookout for symptoms of meningitis.

Only the contaminated back medication has been linked to the meningitis outbreak.

In Florida, more than 260 facilities received some type of medication from New England Compounding. They aren't just pain care clinics; hospitals, including Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Medical Center, Memorial Hospital and Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, are also on that list of 260.

The signs and symptoms of meningitis related to epidural injections include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and altered mental status. Symptoms for other possible infections include fever; swelling, increasing pain, redness, warmth at injection site; vision changes, pain, redness or discharge from the eye; chest pain, or drainage from the surgical site (infection within the chest).

"We care about every patient, family, and community affected by this outbreak in the aftermath of contaminated NECC steroid injections," said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong in a statement. "All patient settings in Florida are free of these contaminated steroids, and we will continue to assist our federal and state counterparts to ensure that NECC products are not available in any healthcare facility and practice in Florida."

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