Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Could There Be a Second Wave?
Dozens of new fungal infections have been reported in people who received epidural steroid injections recalled earlier this year by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the new cases involve spinal abscess that have the potential to progress to fungal meningitis if they are allowed to remain untreated.
At least 23 cases of spinal abscesses have been reported in patients in Tennessee, and another 37 in Michigan. The abscesses are invisible to the naked eye, and are only being found after patients undergo MRIs, the Journal said. While these infections are not life-threatening, health officials are concerned because they have developed long after patients were exposed to NECC epidural steroids – sometimes up to five weeks later.
According to the Journal, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had previously said the incubation period for the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to NECC’s epidural steroid injections would most likely occur in mid-November. But this new development has officials fearing we will now see a new wave of meningitis in patients treated with the contaminated drugs who developed undetected abscesses.
“We indeed could have a second wave of meningitis for some people,” John Dreyzehner, the Tennessee health department commissioner, warned during a media teleconference. “The medical community can’t tell you with precision when the risk ends.”
NECC’s contaminated steroid injections have been linked to 541 cases of fungal meningitis and other infections. The company has since surrendered its license to operate and recalled all of its medications. In addition to federal and state regulatory investigations, NECC is reportedly the subject of a grand jury criminal probe.
Dozens of meningitis lawsuits have since been filed against NECC in federal courts throughout the U.S. by people who were allegedly sickened by the company’s epidural steroids. In October, plaintiffs in fungal meningitis lawsuits petitioned the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) for consolidation of all federally-filed claims in Minnesota federal court. In its own brief submitted to the JPML last month, NECC voiced support for a consolidation, but requested the U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts as venue.
Late last month, U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor of Massachusetts ordered the consolidation of about a dozen meningitis lawsuits currently pending there in a single litigation, and said evidence in the cases must be preserved. In doing so, Judge Saylor rejected NECC’s request that he delay the cases in lieu of the JMPL’s decision, which is expected next year.
Meanwhile, health officials in Massachusetts have sanctioned three more compounding pharmacies in that state as part of a crackdown on such facilities. According to a report from Reuters, Oncomed Pharmaceuticals was shuttered on November 21 due to concerns over its storage of chemotherapy drugs. Pallimed Solutions, was partially shut down after it used improper components in preparing one drug, as was the Whittier Pharmacist for violations in its sterile compounding operations.