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U.S. health officials identify more cases of rare meningitis

posted 8 Oct 2012, 16:17 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Oct 2012, 16:25 ]

U.S. health officials identify more cases of rare meningitis, warn people to not use any products from compounding pharmacies suspected of distributing tainted medication.

NASHVILLETENNESSEE (OCTOBER 08, 2012) (NBC) -  U.S. health authorities scrambled on Monday (October 08) to identify more cases of a rare form of meningitis, including enlisting local police to find people who might be infected by tainted steroid injections that have so far killed eight people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported 105 cases in nine states on Monday, up from 91 cases on Sunday (October 07). The death toll rose by one overnight.

The widening outbreak has alarmed federal and state health officials and focused attention on regulation of pharmaceutical compounding companies like the one that produced the drugs, the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in FraminghamMassachusetts.

The CDC believes that about 13,000 patients may have been exposed to the three lots of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate recalled from the NECC, said Curtis Allen, a spokesman for the CDC, in an e-mail.

The company shipped 17,676 vials of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate to 76 facilities in 23 states from July through September, the Massachusetts Health Department said.

The steroid is used as a painkiller, usually for the back, and could have been injected in thousands of patients, authorities have said.

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, and affected patients started showing a variety of symptoms from one to four weeks after their injections.

The company, which was previously the subject of complaints, has suspended its operations while an investigation proceeds and earlier recalled the three lots of the drug. It expanded its recall on Saturday (October 05) to all products compounded and distributed at its Framingham facility.

"We really don't know at this point in time where all those materials are. It's important to note that there is no evidence, at this time, that any of those materials are contaminated. They are being recalled out of an abundance of caution. That having been said, certainly anybody who is in possession of materials that say New England Compounding Center or NECC on the label, should not use them," said TennesseeHealth Commissioner, Dr. John Dreyzehner.

A compounding pharmacy takes medications from pharmaceutical manufacturers and makes them into specific dosages and strengths for use by doctors.

The U.S. Food and Drug administration has limited authority over the day-to-day operations of compounding pharmacies, which are regulated primarily by state boards that oversee the practices, licensing and certification of pharmacies and pharmacists.

The nine states where fungal meningitis cases have been reported are FloridaIndianaMaryland,MichiganMinnesotaNorth CarolinaOhioTennessee and Virginia.