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article imageThe fungal meningitis outbreak, one year on

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By Tim Sandle     Oct 28, 2013 in Health
A year ago, Digital Journal began a series of reports highlighting the scandal of contaminated medicines distributed across the U.S., an incident where over 700 people became infected . One year on, the U.S. CDC has published an in-depth review.
Digital Journal first reported on the issue of the New England Compounding Center (NECC) on October 8, 2012. At this time we noted that a contaminated steroid product had been distributed across 23 U.S. states as a cure for arthritis and that the tainted product had been responsible for seven deaths. That was the initial death rate.
The latest figures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are, as of Oct. 23, 2013: 751 cases of fungal meningitis and other infections associated with this outbreak. Of these, 64 of these patients have died.
Many patients continue to struggle with complications from fungal infections, including side effects of the antifungal drugs used to fight the infections, and continuing problems related to their infections.
The steroid was called methylprednisolone acetate. It was manufactured by the NECC in Framingham, Massachusetts under the brand name Depo-Medrol (as an injectable syringe). The medicine is used to treat pain and swelling that occurs with arthritis and other joint disorders. The shots were then administered by 76 health clinics in 23 US states, often to patients experiencing back pain.
As part of this on-going scandal of U.S. healthcare, The CDC has two papers in the New England Journal of Medicine, one describing the clinical aspects of the infections associated with this outbreak and the other summarizing the epidemiologic investigation.
The clinical paper, focusing on the early stages of the outbreak, describes patients who experienced a wide variety of illnesses, including meningitis, stroke, arachnoiditis (inflammation of one of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord), and epidural or para-spinal infections which ranged in severity from very mild to life-threatening.
The epidemiology paper finalizes the original preliminary report published by the New England Journal of Medicine and details the efforts undertaken by public health agencies to identify and stop the outbreak.
The extent of the issue should not be underestimated. This has been the largest outbreak of healthcare-associated infections ever reported in the United States. The issue also led to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ‘advising’ pharmacies to recall many drug products due to concerns about sterility; Digital Journal has reported on several of these over the past year.
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