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Meningitis outbreak spreads across East Coast

Published On: Oct 04 2012 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 05 2012 02:02:28 PM EDT

Meningitis Outbreak

A rare meningitis outbreak has infected 35 people in six states. And it's been linked to at least five deaths.

No one in Pennsylvania has been sickened, but health officials are looking at patients in western Pennsylvania who may have been exposed.

The type of meningitis involved is called fungal meningitis. Health officials on Thursday warned that hundreds and maybe thousands of people who got steroid back injections in 23 states, including Pennsylvania, could be at risk.


Clinics and medical centers are rushing to contact patients who may have received the apparently fungus-contaminated shots.

"Due to an airborne type of fungus, a mold that has apparently contaminated a product used in certain medical procedures," explained Dr. Luther Rhodes, chief of infectious disease at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

All 35 people who contracted the fungal meningitis received steroid injections into their backs to manage pain, a fairly typical treatment.

"They've had a procedure called an epidural injection, spinal epidural injection," said Rhodes.

Patients at two pain clinics in western Pennsylvania may have received the medication and are being contacted. The Food and Drug Administration urges doctors not to use any products from the specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts that supplies the suspect solution.

"It's important to understand that this is different than the standard or usual case of meningitis," said Rhodes.

Fungal meningitis is not contagious like the more common bacterial and viral forms, and it's not transmitted person to person. Doctors said you should only be concerned about the outbreak if you received steroid shots for back pain.

"It's important for people to be alert," said Rhodes. "If they've had the procedure to discuss the matter with their doctor."

The Massachusetts pharmacy recalled three lots of the steroid last week. The medications have been available since July.