Contaminated Medicine Responsible for Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

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Symptoms of Meningitis. Photo by: Mikael Häggström

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled 34 types of medications, including  injectable epidurals, steroids, and saline solutions that are used to make different drugs, as of October 9, 2012 – all medications that are linked to the fungal meningitis outbreak that is sweeping the nation.

As of October 10, 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 137 people in 10 states have been infected, 12 people have died, and there are about 13,000 people that could still be at risk.

Fungal Meningitis

The drugs came from the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts, where FDA inspectors found a still-unknown type of fungus in a sealed test tube that contained steroids. The New England Compounding Center has voluntarily shut down the plant until further notice and recalled all of their products in response to the issue.

Meningitis is a condition where the tissue surrounding the brain and the spinal cord become inflamed – there are five different forms of meningitis, and some are more serious than others. Fungal meningitis, a rare form of meningitis that is a result of fungus being spread from the blood to the spinal cord, is not contagious but requires high doses of antifungal medications through an IV in hospital.

Fungi in Medicine

How does the fungus get in medicine? Poor handling during dispensing or repackaging, according to a study published in the Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management in October 201o. How the fungus got into the drugs at the New England Compounding Center is still unknown, however. *Note, October 25, 2012: Updated information on fungal contamination is now available.*

Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Hospital Reaction

During any outbreak, it is important for physicians and nurses to work with their hospital’s infection preventionist. The role of the Infection Preventionist (IP) is to keep surveillance on infections in the hospital.  The Infection Preventionist works closely with the hospital, the state and local health departments, and the CDC to coordinate efforts and exchange information during outbreaks. The Infection Preventionist will also be up-to-date on guidelines from the CDC that outline what needs to occur during an outbreak or during a single infection.

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