MANCHESTER, N.H. (CBS/AP) – The one health care facility in New Hampshire that dispensed medication linked to a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis has not had any cases of the illness so far.
186 patients at PainCare’s Somersworth and Merrimack locations received the epidural steroid injections dating back to late July.
Clinics and medical centers in several states have rushed to contact patients who may have received the apparently fungus-contaminated shots.
And the Food and Drug Administration urged doctors not to use any products at all from the Framingham pharmacy that supplied the suspect steroid solution.
PainCare CEO Dr. Michael O’Connell told WBZ-TV Friday that his company has called all of their patients who were possibly exposed to the tainted medication.
At this point, they have not found any with “stark symptoms of meningitis,” O’Connell said.
Debra Solsky is one of the patients treated at PainCare. “When I got called yesterday, I just started screaming because I didn’t know what else to do,” she says.
Solsky has been dealing with back pain for years, and now fears that she has contracted fungal meningitis. “I’m scared,” she says, “I have uncontrollable crying.”
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever.
O’Connell said two dozen of PainCare’s patients have undergone spinal taps who expressed these symptoms or wanted to have spinal taps done because of their concern.
Clear fluid was found in each test, which is indicates there is no issue, he said. But, cultures must still be analyzed, and that can take two weeks.
It is not clear how many patients received tainted injections nationwide, or even whether everyone who got one will get sick.
So far, 47 people in seven states — Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana and Michigan — have contracted fungal meningitis, and five of them have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All had received steroid shots for back pain, a highly common treatment.
In an alarming indication the outbreak could get much bigger, Massachusetts health officials said the pharmacy involved, the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, has recalled three lots consisting of a total of 17,676 single-dose vials of the steroid, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate.
An unknown number of those vials reached 75 clinics and other facilities in 23 states between July and September, federal health officials said. Several hundred of the vials, maybe more, have been returned unused, one Massachusetts official said.
But many other vials were used. At one clinic in Evansville, Ind., more than 500 patients got shots from the suspect lots, officials said. At two clinics in Tennessee, more than 900 patients — perhaps many more — did.
The investigation began about two weeks ago after a case was diagnosed in Tennessee.
The time from infection to onset of symptoms is anywhere from a few days to a month, so the number of people stricken could rise.
The type of fungal meningitis involved is not contagious like the more common forms. It is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold and is treated with high-dose antifungal medications, usually given intravenously in a hospital.
Massachusetts health officials say pharmacies are only allowed to make medications for individual patients. It is unclear why NECC was sending out bulk shipments of their drugs. PainCare says they were receiving shipments that would last several weeks. Federal authorities are investigating.
WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.
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