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Meningitis cases increase as outbreak continues

The Center for Disease Control reported 19 more cases of meningitis on Tuesday as the country grapples with a meningitis outbreak possibly linked to steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham.

This brings the overall case count to 233, with 15 states affected. As of Tuesday, 15 people have died from the outbreak.

State and national officials continue to investigate the outbreak that began in September. The Food and Drug Administration confirmed on Friday that vials of a steroid injection from the NECC contained an unidentified fungal contaminant, although the FDA is investigating whether this contaminant is the same as any of those found in patients.

“The FDA and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy have conducted joint reviews of NECC for more than a decade,” said Alec Loftus, communications director for Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, in an email statement on Friday. “These collaborative investigations are essential to maximizing regulatory oversight, and ensuring public safety.”

So far, Michigan has reported the most outbreaks of meningitis, with 47 cases reported.

Although cases have been associated with an injection of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate, on Monday, the FDA announced that other NECC products might have caused possible meningitis and another infection in two more patients.

Benjamin Park, chief epidemiologist for the Mycotic Diseases Branch of the CDC, said in a press kit provided on the CDC website that it is important for infected patients to be quickly tracked down and helped.

“If patients are identified soon and put on appropriate antifungal therapy, lives may be saved,” he said.

The CDC is advising doctors to be proactive in seeking out patients that might have been infected by the three lots of steroid injections produced by the NECC.

“CDC has convened the nation’s top clinical fungal experts to work with us in developing diagnostic and treatment guidance for physicians caring for these patients,” said John Jernigan, director of the Office of Health at the CDC, in the press kit. “Patients who are concerned about whether they were exposed to a potentially contaminated product should contact the physician who performed their injection.”

The NECC is no longer operating, and surrendered its license to the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy on Oct. 3, according to the FDA. The shutdown of this plant will not diminish the supply of the steroid injection, methylprednisolone acetate, which was contaminated.

“We’ve taken swift action to date, including securing the surrender of the company’s license, obtaining a recall of all of its products and promptly notifying all providers and patients,” Loftus said. “We are jointly examining all root causes of these events with the FDA, and we are committed to ensuring that all responsible parties are held accountable.”

Loftus also said this outbreak warrants government action to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.

“We urge Congress to act quickly to address the need for new laws on the federal level to fill in the regulatory gaps, so that there is clear authority over regulating these practices,” he said.

Katherine Lynn contributed to the reporting of this article.

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