A fourth Minnesota woman is the latest confirmed case in the fungal meningitis outbreak.

State health officials announced Saturday that the woman, who is in her 70s, was admitted to a hospital last week -- the state's oldest patient with the dangerous disease so far. She is being treated with antifungal drugs and antibiotics, said Doug Schultz, spokesman for the state Health Department.

"All of these cases are fairly complex, in part because they were being treated for pain and other conditions [beforehand]," Schultz said, adding that he couldn't release the condition of the latest patient, but "we know older patients do have more complex medical conditions."

The other three cases involved women in their 40s; two of those women have since been treated and released and the third is expected to be released from a hospital soon. None of the four women's names or hometowns have been released.

The outbreak is linked to injections of a steroid to treat chronic pain produced by the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass. Nationwide, 15 people have died of the illness and 197 cases have been confirmed.

It can take four to six weeks for symptoms to appear, but because fungal meningitis can't be transmitted from person to person, there is no risk for the general public.

With about 950 Minnesota patients believed to have been treated with the drug, health officials expect this likely won't be the last Minnesota case.

"We continue to evaluate cases," Schultz said, "so we wouldn't be surprised to hear about more cases in the coming weeks."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141