A cerebrospinal fluid sample from a fungal meningitis patient in Minnesota… (Hannah Foslien / Associated…)
Roughly 14,000 patients in 23 states have been injected with a tainted pain-killing medication that is suspected of causing a nationwide outbreak of rare fungal meningitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
At a news conference Thursday, CDC officials said they had located and notified 90% of those individuals -- just over 12,000. They also warned that in some cases, onset of fungal infection was taking much longer than typically observed, and that exposed patients needed to remain vigilant for signs of illness over the next several months.
"We know we are not out of the woods yet," said said Dr. Todd Weber, an incident manager for the CDC. "We are making sure patients understand that should they develop symptoms of meningitis or a joint infection in the coming weeks, they need to seek medical care immediately."
To date, 14 people have died and 155 more have been diagnosed with fungal meningitis following injection with a preservative-free version of the steroid methylprednilosone acetate. The drug, which was produced at the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., has been recalled and the company has ceased operations.
Fever, new or worsening headaches, back pain, nausea and neurological problems similar to those exhibited by stroke victims were among the symptoms of the illness, authorities said. In some cases the symptoms were mild.
The drug is used to alleviate back or joint pain. Weber said that in addition to meningitis cases, one case of a joint infection has been reported.
Fungal meningitis is rare, officials said, and the effects of the fungi involved were not widely known. "This is definitely new territory for public health and the clinical community," Weber said.