Massachusetts pharmacy blamed in deadly meningitis outbreak

You can’t turn on the news without hearing about the fatal meningitis outbreak that has been traced to a Massachusetts pharmacy. So far, the meningitis outbreak has claimed 15 lives. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes more than 200 people have been infected so far and thousands more could be at risk.

Top health officials blame tainted drugs for the deadly outbreak, which they say is far from being over. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently investigating several potentially defective pharmaceuticals made by the Framingham, Massachusetts, pharmacy, New England Compounding Center (NECC).

The CDC first linked the fungal meningitis outbreak to tainted vials of a steroid being distributed by NECC. Health officials say the contaminated steroids were shipped to 23 states and 76 medical facilities throughout the country, which means as many as 14,000 people are at risk of contracting the illness.

NECC has recalled the steroid and suspended all operations at its offices. Several states as well as the FDA are now investigating the company for potentially abusing its license as a drug compounding pharmacy, which is not regulated by the FDA. If violations are discovered, it is likely that NECC could face civil and criminal charges.

In fact, at least one personal injury lawsuit has already been filed against NECC by a 71-year-old Tennessee woman who said she contracted fungal meningitis after receiving a tainted injection of the steroid methylprednisolone for back pain on Aug. 30.

The type of fungal meningitis involved in the outbreak is rare and deadly, but unlike viral and bacterial meningitis, it is not contagious. Meningitis involves the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord becoming infected. Symptoms include headache, fever and nausea.

Sources: Reuters, “Meningitis outbreak rises to 205 cases: CDC,” Oct. 14, 2012; Reuters, “UPDATE 3-More drugs may be linked to US meningitis outbreak-FDA,” Greg McCune and Bill Berkrot, Oct. 15, 2012