A rare form of fungal meningitis has killed five people and sickened 30 across six states, and more are expected, health officials said today.
The outbreak of aspergillus meningitis has been linked to spinal steroid injections, a common treatment for back pain. A sealed vial of the steroid, called methylprednisolone acetate, was found to contain fungus, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“FDA is in the process of further identifying the fungal contaminate,” said Dr. Ilisa Bernstein, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office of Compliance. “Our investigation into the source of this outbreak is still ongoing.”
The steroid came from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., a specialty pharmacy that has recalled three lots of the drug and shut down operations. Calls to the pharmacy were not immediately returned and their website is down.
Twenty-five of the meningitis cases — three of them lethal — have been in Tennessee, where more than 900 residents received the drug in the past three months.
Cases have also been reported in Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.
Roughly 75 clinics in 23 states that received the recalled lots have been instructed to notify all affected patients.
“If patients are concerned, they should contact their physician to find out if they received a medicine from one of these lots,” said Dr. Benjamin Park of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that most of the cases occurred in older adults who were healthy aside from back pain.