Meningitis from tainted pain shots tops 500 cases

ATLANTA, GA.; November 26, 2012

That number includes 36 deaths, 496 cases of the central nervous system, and 14 joint infections.

When the outbreak began in September, attention focused on the mold Aspergillus, after tests on a Tennessee man with an unusual form of meningitis showed it. Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or a virus.

The man had received shots of a steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, into the spine to control chronic back pain. Some of those who've been sickened, received injections in painful joints.

The steroid was made at the New England Compounding Center, a compounding pharmacy which made specialty medicines. Compounding pharmacies usually make drugs for individual patients, but the NECC was making the steroids in large quantities, and had shipped 17,000 vials in three lots to 23 states.

Inspections of the NECC showed numerous sanitary violations. And the culprit is now believed to be a black mold, Exserohilum, rostratum. The fungus was found in some vials of the steroid, as well as some of the patients.

The outbreak has touched off a controversy about regulations and oversight of compounding pharmacies.

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