Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Investigation Now Expanded to Arkansas

An investigation into the fungal meningitis outbreak stemming from tainted medical products has been expanded to include Arkansas, according to a recent release. The products in question were manufactured by New England Compounding Center (NECC) and shipped around the nation, including to several facilities in Arkansas. Victims of the outbreak all received NECC-manufactured steroid shots, mostly to treat back pain.

Today’s THV reports that, so far, more than 250 fungal meningitis cases and at least 20 deaths have been reported since May 2012, when the affected product was first shipped from NECC. As many as 14,000 people received shots from the three contaminated (and since recalled) batches.

Although the numbers seem scary, no cases have been reported in Arkansas so far, reports Fox 16 of Arkansas. According to Nate Smith, MD, Deputy Director and State Epidemiologist, there is “no clear association with any human illnesses, but the FDA is taking action out of concern that there could be additional infections.”

The FDA is currently contacting all hospitals and facilities that received any of the injectable or implantable compounds as a precautionary measure. Facilities in Arkansas that received the potentially contaminated products are UAMS and UAMS – Cancer Center (Little Rock), ┬áJohn McClellan VA Medical Center (Little Rock), Cosmetic Surgery Center (Little Rock), Northwest Medical Center (Springdale), North Arkansas Regional Medical Center (Harrison), Siloam Springs Regional Hospital (Siloam Springs), and Earl MD Advanced Aesthetics (Bentonville).

Dr. Dirk Haselow of Communicable Diseases and Immunizations said, “We understand that people might be concerned about this. We are working with the eight providers (six hospitals and two clinics) in Arkansas who received these products to recall these medicines and notify patients if physicians feel a patient might be at risk for illness. They know their patients’ medical needs and risk factors and can best identify any patients they may need to contact. None of the products distributed to any Arkansas facility has been associated with illness at this time. The recall is being done out of an abundance of caution due to conditions observed at the NECC plant.”

The FDA encourages patients and physicians to utilize its Drug Information Hotline at 855-543-DRUG and press * to get updates and information regarding the meningitis outbreak and recalled products.

The FDA also encourages patients who may have received an injection on or after May 21, 2012, to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of infection and to contact their healthcare provider if concerned. So far, the fungal meningitis outbreak has occurred only in patients who received injections near the spine.

The signs and symptoms of meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and altered mental status.

Symptoms for infections following other types of injections, such as near peripheral joints, may vary, but they include fever, swelling, increased pain, redness, warmth at injection site, visual changes, pain in or discharge from the eye, chest pain, and drainage from the surgical site.

Fox 16 reports that, while the FDA urges patients to stay vigilant in watching for these symptoms, Dr. Haselow reminds the public that the Arkansas Department of Health is closely monitoring the situation: “Our providers in Arkansas are actively engaged in identifying these medicines and are following this outbreak closely. Several had already removed NECC products prior to this additional recall.”

Sources: Today’s THV, FDA, Fox 16