Meningitis Outbreak in 5 States Traced to Steroid Injections

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Hypodermic Syringe

A meningitis outbreak has now reached five states, killing four people and leaving at least 30 others sick. The illness is linked to epidural steroid injections tainted with the Aspergillus fungus, and experts say the number of cases will rise, theĀ New York Times reports.

The infections have all been traced to injections received from the New England Compounding Center, a Massachusetts pharmacy. There have been victims in Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, and at least 23 other states may have already received shipments of the contaminated drug.

The compounding center recalled three lots of the injections on Sept. 26, but, in one instance, a Tennessee clinic had already received 2,000 vials of the drug, according to the New York Times.

(MORE: In Outbreak, Meningitis Is Reported in 5 States)

Although this strain of meningitis can’t be spread from person to person, it causes inflammation of the braining lining or central nervous system and produces symptoms that include severe headaches, fever and slurred speech, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In the United States, there are about 3,000 pharmacies like the New England Compounding Center, which prepare customized drug mixtures that are not available through major manufacturers. Compounding pharmacies are not held to the same safety standards as normal manufacturers and are not subject to FDA inspection, the New York Times notes.

While some hospitalized patients are showing signs of recovery, others are still in intensive care units, Nashville-based disease specialist Dr. Robert H. Latham told the New York Times. Fungal infections are stubborn, Latham said, and it can take up to a year to treat the disease.

(Q&A: Facts About the Meningitis Outbreak)