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Spinal steroid injection linked to Tennessee meningitis outbreak

State and federal health officials are reporting an outbreak of fungal meningitis in Tennessee.

Tennessee’s chief medical officer said at least 14 people who received steroid injections have been infected and two have died. All but one of those people received steroid injections for back pain at a Nashville clinic identified as the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center. The other case, reported in North Carolina, was a patient who received the same type of injection.

Although investigators have not yet identified the outbreak’s source, NewsChannel5 out of Nashville reports that they have a theory.

According to NewsChannel5, investigators are looking into the possibility of contaminated drugs from an out-of-state compounding pharmacy — a facility that mixes drugs for hospitals and clinics.

The report says the same sort of facility was blamed for a similar 2002 outbreak of meningitis, which is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Doctors in the Nashville area are being told contamination from a compounding pharmacy is once again a possibility.

Investigators are reportedly concerned about a steroid injected directly into the spinal cord, which could give the disease a direct path to the brain.

According to NewsChannel5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned about the possible dangers of relying upon drugs from such compounding pharmacies.

The report quotes Michael Levy, division director for the FDA’s Office of Compliance, as saying: “Pharmacies that are regulated as pharmacies are not subject to FDA regulations on good manufacturing practices, and they may not have the same types of controls that FDA-regulated drug manufacturers have.”

A similar fungal meningitis outbreak a decade ago that killed one patient and sickened three was also blamed on contaminated injectable steroids prepared by a compounding pharmacy in South Carolina. Investigators later cited the pharmacy for “improper performance” of a piece of equipment, “no testing for sterility” and “inadequate clean room practices.”

A Tennessee Department of Health spokesman confirmed that investigators are looking into an out-of-state compounding pharmacy. But he said they’re also looking into a number of other possibilities, including the wipes used to clean the injection point.

If you or someone you love contracted meningitis after a spinal steroid injection, contact a Lopez McHugh attorney for a free case evaluation.

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