Entries in Outbreak (3)


Rare Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Grows; 5 Dead, 30 Sick

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A rare form of fungal meningitis has killed five people and sickened 30 across six states, and more are expected, health officials said Thursday.

The outbreak of aspergillus meningitis has been linked to spinal steroid injections, a common treatment for back pain. A sealed vial of the steroid, called methylprednisolone acetate, was found to contain fungus, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"FDA is in the process of further identifying the fungal contaminate," said Dr. Ilisa Bernstein, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Office of Compliance. "Our investigation into the source of this outbreak is still ongoing."

The steroid came from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., a specialty pharmacy that has recalled three lots of the drug and shut down operations. Calls to the pharmacy were not immediately returned and their website is down.

Twenty-five of the meningitis cases -- three of them lethal -- have been in Tennessee, where more than 900 residents received the drug in the past three months.

Cases have also been reported in Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.

Roughly 75 clinics in 23 states that received the recalled lots have been instructed to notify all affected patients.

"If patients are concerned, they should contact their physician to find out if they received a medicine from one of these lots," said Dr. Benjamin Park of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that most of the cases occurred in older adults who were healthy aside from back pain.

Meningitis affects the membranous lining of the brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms of fungal meningitis, such as headache, fever, dizziness, nausea and slurred speech, are subtler than those of bacterial meningitis and can take nearly a month to appear. Left untreated, the inflammatory disease can cause permanent neurological damage and death.

"Fungal meningitis in general is rare. But aspergillus meningitis -- the kind we're talking about here -- is super-rare and very serious," said Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "There's no such thing as mild aspergillus meningitis."

The disease is diagnosed with a lumbar puncture, which draws cerebrospinal fluid from the spine that can be inspected for signs of the disease. Once detected, it can be treated with high doses of intravenous antifungal medications.

"Treatment could be prolonged, possibly on the order of months," said Park, adding that the IV treatment would require a hospital stay.

Unlike bacterial and viral meningitis, fungal meningitis is not transmitted from person to person and only people who received the steroid injections are thought to be at risk.

The FDA has, however, advised health providers to stop using any product made by the New England Compounding Center during the investigation.

"We're urging clinics to discontinue use of all products from the New England Compounding Center," said Bernstein, adding that purchase records can be used to identify the suspect products. "Given the severity, we believe this precaution is warranted."

The outbreak has raised questions about the safety of drugs from state-regulated compounding pharmacies, which combine drug ingredients for customized medications.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned the New England Compounding Center in 2006 that repackaging drugs opens the door to contamination.

"The moment a sterile container is opened and manipulated, a quality standard (sterility) is destroyed and previous studies supporting the standard are compromised and are no longer valid," the agency wrote in a letter to the pharmacy.

"The agency did issue a warning letter to the pharmacy in 2006, but it didn't address compounding problems that are at issue today," said Kathy Anderson, acting director of the FDA's Office of Unapproved Drugs and Labeling Compliance.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Officials Race Against the Clock as E. Coli Cases Rise

S. Lowry/Univ Ulster(WASHINGTON) -- As the number of E. coli cases climbs to 11 across four southern states, Georgia officials who say they're just beginning their investigation are now racing against the clock to solve these mysterious food poisonings before the epidemic spreads further.

"We know that these cases are all linked, and that would suggest that there was a common source somewhere along the way," J. Patrick O'Neal of the Georgia Department of Health told ABC News.  "We just don't know where."

The death of an infant in New Orleans last week has been linked to at least 10 other cases of E. coli illness in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.  The largest cluster of five sickened people, ranging in age from 18 to 52, is centered in Atlanta, home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maelan Elizabeth Graffagnini was 21 months old when she died last Thursday at a hospital in New Orleans. Two others in the New Orleans area were also recently stricken by the same strain of E. coli, known as 0145.

"The death of a young child is always difficult, and it serves as a reminder of how serious E. coli is," said Dr. Takeisha Davis of the Louisiana Health Department.

Alabama public health officials have linked two cases to this outbreak.  And in Florida, a 22-year-old woman's illness has been traced to the same dangerous bacterium.

Aside from the E. coli strain, all these cases have in common is that officials still have no idea what caused the illnesses.

"They are racing against the clock, they want to figure out what the product is, and get it out of the market before it sickens or kills anyone else," said Bill Marler, a food safety attorney.

Epidemiologists at the CDC's headquarters are poring over data sent in from the states in search of a common factor that could pinpoint a cause.

"The likely exposure is a food source," Louisiana Department of Health spokesman Tom Gasparoli said.  "But this has yet to be confirmed.  Often, the contact source is not found."

E. coli are a common bacteria and not every strain is dangerous.  But some, like those that carry the 0145 genetic fingerprint that is behind this outbreak, produce a deadly toxin known as shiga.  This poison can cause violent reactions, including severe kidney damage and death.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Outbreak Feared in Proposed Federal Disease Research Facility

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(KANSAS CITY) -- A federal disease research facility planned for Manhattan, Kan., has sparked controversy after a safety study reported a 70 percent chance of an outbreak of dangerous and contagious diseases.

Located about 120 miles west of Kansas City, the proposed $451 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility would study dangerous foreign animal and zoonotic diseases, which are illnesses passed between humans and animals. It would be the first time in almost 75 years that research of highly contagious foot and mouth disease would be allowed to take place on the U.S. mainland.

In a report critiquing the Homeland Security risk assessment study, the National Research Council issued several warnings about the current plan for the facility, chief among them, it said, was a 70 percent chance of a foot and mouth disease outbreak over the building's 50-year lifespan.

Although the Department of Homeland Security assessment put the cost of an outbreak between $9 billion and $50 billion, the report suggests the cost would be much higher.

Foot and mouth disease, a severe viral infection that affects cloven-footed animals such cattle and pigs, is one of the most dreaded diseases among farmers. An outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001 had grave economic consequences for the country's agriculture industry: with more than 2,000 cases, thousands of healthy animals were slaughtered as a preventive measure.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio