The number of people infected by a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis has reached 137 cases across the United States and 12 people have died.
Out of those cases, as of Thursday morning, six have died and 44 people have been infected in Tennessee – the highest total of the 10 states reporting cases.
Health officials have linked the outbreak to a steroid made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts that is used in steroid shots for back pain.
Locally, United Regional Medical Center offers the same steroid-injection procedure that led to the fungal meningitis. But officials say the hospital has not ordered any medications from that pharmacy in Massachusetts.
“We do provide those services and we continue to provide those services,” said URMC risk manager Ray Burns.
“When the information first came out we spoke with our providing physician (Dr. James Roth) and placed a moratorium on that procedure until we were able to determine the manufacturers of the medicine that were supposedly tainted. Once we learned who the providing pharmacy was we verified we do not and have not ever received medicine from that pharmacy.”
Burns said the procedure was stopped for about five to seven days before the moratorium was lifted.
“We are very stringent on monitoring and work in close conjunction with the state department of health to verify all medications and procedures at our facility are safe.”
Kim Buckner with Dr. Roth’s office said that the injections will continue to be administered Oct. 23.
“Dr. Roth initially started to cancel the procedure for three weeks but we checked with the hospital and we checked the supplier and the medicine is through a completely different supplier,” Buckner told the Times. “We rescheduled this past Tuesday and this upcoming Tuesday for some meetings but we will continue on the following Tuesday (Oct. 23).”
According to Buckner, the medication used by Dr. Roth at United Regional Medical Center comes from Pfizer Inc., which is based in New York, N.Y.
The Times reached out to Medical Center of Manchester to confirm whether or not it provides the same injections, but a voice message was not returned at press time.
The Massachusetts company has recalled the steroid, which was sent to clinics in 23 states. According to the CDC, patients may have been infected as far back as May 21.
Many of the cases in Tennessee have been linked to St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville.
According to the CDC, fungal meningitis is rare and usually the result of spread of a fungus through blood to the spinal cord. Although anyone can get fungal meningitis, people with weak immune systems, like those with AIDS or cancer, are at higher risk.
The CDC also advises that the disease is not contagious and can’t be transmitted from person to person.
Signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, photophobia or sensitivity to light, and altered mental status.
-Josh Peterson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com