Meningitis Outbreak Deaths Rise To Six In Tennessee, 11 In US - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Meningitis Outbreak Deaths Rise To Six In Tennessee, 11 In US

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Reba Temple Reba Temple

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Two additional deaths from a rare fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections have been reported in Tennessee, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to six, and nationwide to 11.

Dr. John Dreyzehner, Tennessee's health commissioner, said Tuesday the total number of cases in the state has increased by four and now stands at 39. The cases all stem from steroid injections for back pain and officials said evidence points to contaminated medicine as the cause of the rare disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that there have been 119 infections and 11 deaths across the nation. 

New Jersey is the 10th state to report at least one illness. Tennessee so far has reported the greatest number of cases. The other states involved in the outbreak are Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio.

Dr. Dreyzehner also reported the incubation period may be longer than originally believed, and can be anywhere from six to 42 days. He added that the average time from injection to symptoms of the disease in Tennessee patients has been 16 days.

Dreyzehner said though the period of risk is ongoing, the period of exposure is over; new cases may be identified through the end of October into early November.

The state also said the CDC has also identified a second pathogen, called exserohilum, responsible for the infection.  It is a very rare fungus, that officials said many doctors may never even come into contact with.  The other pathogen that was found in the first patient that died in Tennessee was identified as Aspergillus, a type of fungus.

At least one patient died at Saint Thomas Hospital over the weekend, hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Climer said late Monday. Family members identified 80-year-old Reba Temple as the fifth victim. She was laid to rest Monday in Centerville.

A death on September 26 was not reported to the state until this past weekend, Dr.  Dreyzehner explained Monday.

As the number of cases increases, Tennessee health officials announced Monday that they would review recent deaths not previously linked to the outbreak to see if some may have been related. Officials did not release details on what sort of deaths they would review.

CDC officials said fungal meningitis broke out among patients who received steroid shots for back pain. The tainted steroid suspected in the outbreak is believed to have come from the New England Compounding Center, a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts.

Unlike bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis is not contagious, so doctors were not required to report cases to the state, Dreyzehner said.

Clinics are now alerting state officials when patients turn up with symptoms of the disease and are informing them of patients who they think in retrospect may have had it.

Dr. Marion Kainer, director of health care-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance program for the state, said following the outbreak, Tennessee is now requiring providers to report cases of fungal meningitis to the state.

Meningitis is caused by the inflammation of protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include a splitting headache, fever, stiff neck, difficulty walking or worsening back pain.

Some patients affected by this outbreak have had deep brain strokes and the early cases that were not recognized also had the strokes, Kainer said.

‘‘We hope and pray as we are recognizing these cases earlier and treating them earlier that we can avoid those complications,'' Kainer said.

The pharmacy that distributed the steroid issued a voluntary recall of all of its products Saturday, calling the move a precautionary measure. Tennessee health officials had already directed clinics and hospitals not to use any products provided by the New England Compounding Center and further urged any consumers to avoid any medications from the pharmacy.

In Tennessee, officials believe about 1,000 people could have received the contaminated medication and thus could be at risk, Dreyzehner said. Many of those received multiple injections. Officials encourage vigilance for up to three months for those that may be at risk.

Although the CDC has said the potentially contaminated injections were given starting on May 21, Dreyzehner said the earliest date that people could have received the injection in Tennessee was June 27.

Over the weekend, local health officials contacted about 66 people who were among those at risk after receiving injections and in some cases, knocked on doors in an effort to reach people

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)

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