Tenn: Meningitis outbreak prompts investigation

8:57 am | October 3, 2012

NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s chief medical officer said Tuesday that state and federal health experts are investigating an outbreak of meningitis in which 14 people who received steroid injections contracted the infection and two of them died.

Dr. David Reagan, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health, said two more confirmed cases in the past 24 hours brought the total to 14. Authorities say all but one of those who contracted the infection had received steroid injections for back pain at a Nashville clinic.

The other case was reported in North Carolina in a patient who had received the same type of injection, authorities said.

Marion Kainer, an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist with the Tennessee Health Department, said it’s still too early to pinpoint the source. But Kainer said three lots of injectable steroid used at a Nashville clinic between July 30 and Sept. 20 have been recalled by the manufacturer. The clinic, the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center, voluntarily shut its doors Sept. 20.

“This is a serious illness, a serious disease,” Kainer said. “There is not a lot of experience treating it, but we’re getting the best advice possible.”

Officials haven’t identified the drug manufacturer or the city in North Carolina where one of the cases was reported. Reagan said that publicizing too much information at this time could negatively affect the investigation.

Of the 11 surviving patients in Tennessee, some are in critical condition while others are improving, Reagan said.

Health Department spokesman Woody McMillin said so far it has taken patients between seven days and 28 days to develop symptoms. Officials say new cases could still be identified in coming days.

Only in one case so far has the pathogen responsible for the meningitis infection been positively identified. It is Aspergillus, a type of fungus. All the other meningitis cases may be fungal as well, but state health officials could not state that with certainty because they have not been able to grow cultures of those pathogens.

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