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Report Details Start of Steroid Meningitis Outbreak
Date:11/7/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- The first reports of serious fungal infections from tainted steroid injections for back pain came in September from Tennessee and quickly became a national health crisis.

As of Monday, 30 people had died and 419 had been sickened in 19 states during the outbreak of fungal meningitis, with Tennessee and Michigan hit the hardest, according to U.S. health officials.

"Tennessee really got inundated with this," said Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Now, a report published online Nov. 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine explains how the outbreak began and gives details on 66 cases in Tennessee. The state is now reporting a total of 78 cases of infection and 13 deaths.

This is rare fungal infection, Siegel said. "What's important about this report is that it documents an unusual way of transmitting this fungus," he explained.

The crisis started when a Tennessee doctor reported a single case of fungal meningitis to the state Department of Health on Sept. 18, and the agency began an investigation. Two days later two more cases were identified in Tennessee and authorities notified the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Sept. 25 there were eight cases of meningitis, which is inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord. All of the patients had been injected with a steroid compound in hopes of relieving neck or back pain.

Investigators quickly linked the outbreak to contaminated products made by a single company, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. The company began a recall of its products and eventually it was shut down.

When the Tennessee Department of Health compiled data on the cases, it found that the age of patients ranged from 23 to 91, and it generally took about 18 days fr
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