As of Oct. 17, nine cases of fungal meningitis infections linked to steroid injections have been confirmed in Ohio, including a 65-year-old Hamilton County male.
Nationally, the fungal meningitis outbreak resulted in 247 cases in 15 states, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nineteen deaths have been reported; no deaths related to fungal meningitis have been confirmed in Ohio.
The steroid injections linked to fungal meningitis came from the New England Compounding Center, a pharmacy in Boston, Mass. that supplied and recalled the injections to 76 U.S. healthcare facilities Sept. 26, according to the CDC. These injections of methylprednisolone acetate, commonly known as Depo-Medrol, were used to treat joint and back pain.
In Ohio, 425 individuals received the steroid injection from NECC. According to Tess Pollock, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Health, 424 of the individuals have been contacted about the potential infection of fungal meningitis.
“We feel fairly confident that our local health department along with healthcare providers in this area [have] alerted their patients of the symptoms they need to be monitoring, and brought them back in for additional consultation or monitoring, if that is the case,” Pollock said.
The Ohio Department of Health is working with state and local-level public health officials as well as federal agencies such as the CDC and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on the investigation.
“Ohio is very lucky that we’ve worked very hard on those partnerships and they are in place when we have a situation like this,” Pollock said.
Fungal meningitis is not spread person to person, unlike bacterial or viral meningitis. The only at-risk group is those that have received these injections. The CDC released information on the symptoms of fungal meningitis, including fever, stiff neck and sensitivity to light.
The department has not speculated on the future of the fungal meningitis outbreak in Ohio.
“There [are] just a lot of unknowns in the situation because of the rare nature of [fungal] meningitis, and the way that people are becoming ill,” Pollock said.
The treatment for fungal meningitis involves administration of antifungal medications through an IV at the hospital. These treatments are expensive and can have severe side effects, Pollock said.
Miami senior and chemistry major Toni Paul said part of the reason for this outbreak is the lack of regulation for lesser known medications.
“It’s a fault with the pharmaceutical companies,” Paul said. “The big well-known ones are all regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but all the smaller companies aren’t regulated so they can get away with things and make bad products.”
Paul said the coverage in the media will influence people’s decisions to take steroid injections.
“I think people will take notice,” Paul said. “Especially from people hearing about these adverse effects from having the shot, they probably [think] it would be better to not get it.”
Anybody that has received a steroid injection with this recalled product should be in contact with their healthcare provider immediately.