The death toll has reached 11 in a lethal outbreak of fungal meningitis that so far has spread to 10 states in the United States. At least 119 cases of the deadly illness – which is not contagious -- have been identified so far by health officials.
The illness was contracted through contaminated medication used as an epidural injection to control back pain. It is unclear how long it takes for symptoms of the illness to develop.
Health officials warned that patients treated between June 27 and September 28 should be on the alert. Symptoms cited in an article published in MedPage Today included fever, new or worsening headache, nausea and any new neurological deficit consistent with deep brain stroke.
The highest number of cases – 39 – were found in Tennessee, including six deaths. At least one of the cases was linked to the fungus aspergillus. Cases were also discovered in New Jersey, Indiana, Virginia, Maryland and in Michigan, where tree people died of the illness.
It is believed the outbreak may have been due to distribution of three contaminated lots of medication from a Massachusetts firm. The New England Compounding Center had shipped 17,676 vials of a steroid, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate, to 75 pain clinics in 23 states.
All of the vials have since been recalled, along with all other company products, officials said. The products appeared to have been contaminated with at least one type of fungus, and thus were implicated in the meningitis outbreak.