The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed tonight that a terrifying meningitis outbreak that has claimed 20 lives was caused by steroid shots for back pain. The shots, manufactured by NECC, were tainted with a form of fungus that attacks the nervous system. Because many of these shots were administered in people's spines, the fungus acted quickly to damage brain tissues and cause death within weeks. 254 people have fallen ill so far, and the CDC believes 14,000 were exposed to the tainted steroids.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was still testing two additional lots of methylprednisolone acetate, the steroid used to treat back pain, for the presence of the rare Exserohilum fungus. It is also testing other injectable drugs that were supplied by the New England Compounding Center, or NECC, in Massachusetts.
"Now we can definitively say that the injections are linked to the infection," Dr. Tom Chiller, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters in an interview. "To date, CDC has no firm evidence of infection in any patients beyond those exposed to the contaminated lots." . . . About 14,000 patients are believed to have been exposed to the potentially tainted NECC steroid and some 97 percent of them have been contacted so far, the FDA and CDC said.
Meningitis is a condition where the lining around the brain becomes swollen, leading to severe headaches, blackouts, and in the worst case, death. Anyone who has received a steroid shot in the last two months who is feeling ill — especially with headaches or a stiff neck — is advised to see their doctor immediately.
NECC, the company that made the tainted steroids, is under investigation. It is still not clear how the fungus, which is usually attracted to grass and rotting wood, found its way into a large batch of steroid shots.