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Cases Linked to Fungal Meningitis Now Number 328
Date:10/25/2012

By Steven Reinberg and Margaret Steele
HealthDay Reporters

THURSDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Three hundred twenty-eight people in 18 states have now been sickened in the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The number of deaths remained unchanged at 24.

Massachusetts officials said Tuesday that they had begun a criminal investigation into the specialty pharmacy at the center of the outbreak, the New England Compounding Center. State inspectors said they had found unsanitary conditions that included black specks of fungus in steroids made at the Framingham-based facility.

The inspectors' preliminary investigation also revealed that the company distributed drugs before the return of tests to check for sterility. They added that the company functioned as a drug manufacturer, producing drugs for broad use, rather than filling individual prescriptions for individual doctors, in violation of its state license, CBS News reported.

The news network also said the inspectors found dirty floor mats, a leaky boiler, inadequate sterilization of medications and improper testing of laboratory equipment.

The company said it was cooperating with investigators, CBS said.

According to published reports, state records show that the New England Compounding Center was plagued by problems as far back as 2006. Those records, obtained by the Associated Press under a public documents request, showed there was evidence of inadequate contamination control and no written standard operating procedures for using equipment, among other problems, at the facility.

The New England Compounding Center is what's known as a compounding pharmacy. These pharmacies combine, mix or alter ingredients to create specific drugs to meet the specific needs of individual patients, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Such customized drugs are frequentl
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