This undated photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a branch of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. The fungus blamed for causing a meningitis outbreak in five states is widely distributed indoors and outdoors, but only very rarely makes people sick. People inhale aspergillus fungus all the time without any problem. It's nearly impossible to avoid, found in such places as decaying leaves, trees, grain, other plants, soil, household dust, ducts for air conditioning and heating, and building materials. The fungus can also cause skin infections if it enters a break in the skin. The meningitis outbreak is linked to the fungus being accidentally injected into people as a contaminant in steroid treatments. It's not clear how the fungus got into the medicine.

Libero Ajello, Associated Press

Minn. identifies 2 meningitis cases linked to steroid

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 6, 2012 - 10:08 PM

Fungal meningitis has been diagnosed in two women hospitalized in Minnesota after receiving injectable steroids from a pharmacy in Massachusetts, the Minnesota Department of Health reported on Saturday.

Nationwide, seven people with the illness have died, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta reported Saturday. The cases of the Minnesota women -- who are both in their 40s and whose names and hometowns have not been released -- are among the most recent of 60 diagnosed nationwide, the CDC said.

Cases have been confirmed in eight states other than Minnesota.

Steroid products produced by the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass., have been linked to all of the confirmed cases of fungal meningitis in seven states, the CDC said. That company is now closed.

After the Minnesota women experienced symptoms of meningitis, including severe fever, stiff neck and headache, evidence of the infection was found in their spinal fluid, the Health Department said. Both are being treated with antibiotic and antifungal drugs.

The only Minnesota health care providers known to have used the implicated drug -- an injectable steroid used for pain relief known as methylprednisolone acetate -- are Medical Advanced Pain Specialists in Edina, Fridley, Shakopee and Maple Grove, and the Minnesota Surgery Center in Edina and Maple Grove. State health officials are working with those clinics to contact patients who were treated with steroids from the Massachusetts firm.

About 950 Minnesota patients are believed to have been treated with the implicated products. As of Saturday afternoon, about 350 of the patients had been contacted by health officials, who said they hoped to finish contacting the rest by Sunday night.

Of the 350 people, only two presented symptoms for fungal meningitis, said state Health Department spokesman Buddy Ferguson.

He added that anyone who has fallen ill after getting a steroid injection should contact their health care provider immediately. "Don't wait for us to call you," he said.

Ferguson added that it is believed that it could take four to six weeks after someone received a contaminated shot for possible symptoms to appear.

Fungal infections associated with the steroid products are different from the viral and bacterial forms of meningitis that might be more familiar, Ferguson stressed. They cannot be transmitted from person to person, so people who have not been treated with the implicated steroid products are not at risk.

The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this report. Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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