INDIANAPOLIS – More than 500 patients treated at a southwest Indiana clinic received injections of a recalled back-pain medication that’s tied to a widening U.S. outbreak of a rare form of fungal meningitis that’s killed five people, officials said Thursday.
The Indiana State Department of Health said it knows of six facilities – in Evansville, Fort Wayne, Elkhart, South Bend, Terre Haute and Columbus – that received the tainted batches of the drug, called methylprednisolone acetate. All six have begun recalling the product and notifying patients.
State health officials said one case of the illness has been confirmed and they are investigating other potential cases.
St. Mary’s Health spokeswoman Laura Forbes said 560 patients at an Evansville clinic received injections of the steroid made by Framingham, Mass.-based New England Compounding Center, and between 50 and 60 of those patients received multiple injections.
Between 10 and 15 of the 250 patients that St. Mary’s Health has contacted about the situation have reported symptoms consistent with fungal meningitis, Forbes said.
Forbes said all of the patients received the spinal injections between July 1 and Sept. 28 at St. Mary’s Surgicare Cross Pointe, an outpatient surgery clinic.
“We’re taking it very seriously,” she said. “We’re advising them to go to their nearest emergency room.”
The Indiana State Department of Health did not identify the location of the patient with the confirmed case of meningitis.
Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, said the situation could be very serious as officials are dealing with a disease that doctors typically don’t look for in many patients.
“It’s extremely rare, and then usually only in compromised folks,” she said. “You have to look for it specifically, and if you don’t know, you wouldn’t think of looking for it.”
New England Compounding Center recalled the back medication after it was linked to the fungal meningitis outbreak that already has killed five people and sickened dozens nationwide.
Federal investigators this week found contamination in a sealed vial of the steroid at the Massachusetts company, according to Food and Drug Administration officials. Tests are under way to determine if it is the same fungus blamed in the outbreak.
Vanderburgh County health officer Dr. Ray Nicholson said only one person has been hospitalized there. He said the health agency has asked all the hospitals and surgery centers in the area to check the lot numbers on their supplies to determine if they had received any of the tainted steroid.
The type of fungal meningitis in question is not contagious, but Nicholson said it has a long incubation period.
“The whole problem is the incubation period for this fungus is a long time ... even up to 90 days,” Nicholson said. “So we’re gonna have to have surveillance here for quite a while.”
The disease is often fatal, he added.
“It’s a very high mortality rate if you get it,” he said.
Jeff Wiehe of The Journal Gazette and Charles Wilson of the Associated Press in Indianapolis contributed to this story.