NJ Patients Got Drug Tied to Meningitis Outbreak

The outbreak of a rare fungal meningitis has been traced to steroids sold by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy

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    Patients at six New Jersey medical facilities were treated with a steroid medication suspected in a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis, health officials said Thursday as they sought to determine if any cases of the illness had occurred in the state.
     
    All six facilities, which the state Health Department refused to identify, were determined to have administered doses from lots that were recalled last week by a Framingham, Mass., pharmacy that custom-mixes medicines.
     
    The Food and Drug Administration warned doctors not to use any products from the pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center, after tests found contamination in a sealed vial of steroid.
     
    Tests were under way to determine if it is the same fungus blamed in the outbreak reported to have sickened at least 35 people in six states, leaving five dead. All received steroid shots for back pain.

    As of late Thursday, no cases of fungal meningitis had been reported in New Jersey, one of 23 states where the FDA said the recalled steroid had been shipped since July.
     
    Fungal meningitis, which unlike common forms of meningitis is not contagious, is treated with high-dose antifungal medications, usually given intravenously in a hospital.
     
    In describing the six facilities in New Jersey that used the medication, the state Health Department described them only as pain centers or doctors' offices.

    Asked why the state would not identify the facilities, Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner responded: ``At this time, the department is not releasing the names of the six centers so the centers can spend their resources reaching out to patients who may be at greatest risk.''
     
    Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include severe and worsening headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. Some of the patients also experienced slurred speech, and difficulty walking and urinating, according to health officials in Tennessee, where the most cases have been reported.
     
    The time from infection to onset of symptoms is estimated at anywhere from a few days to a month, so some people may not have fallen ill yet, health officials said.