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Health Officials Give Update on Meningitis Outbreak Investigation While Others Call for More Action

According to the New Yrok Times, the virus was first discovered in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947, but wasn’t common in the West until an outbreak was found in Brazil last May.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to contaminated drugs manufactured by a Massachusetts company has claimed the lives of at least 14 people. Now federal and state officials are investigating but groups are calling for more action. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, across 11 states, 169 people have contracted fungal meningitis from a steroid injection manufactured by New England Compounding Center, a company located in Framingham, Massachusetts. Since the discovery of the contamination the company has suspended its operation and is in cooperation with the state Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Deborah Autor, Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy at the FDA, says that as part of the investigation, federal authorities are trying to determine the scope of the contamination to the steroid injections given to 14,000 patients.

The investigation is also looking at how the samples became infected, the concentration of the contaminants, and what types of fungal contaminations are affecting sick patients.

Dr. Todd Weber,  Chief of the Prevention and Response Branch of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the CDC said that the number of infected individuals could still increase, and that doctors and patients need to be on alert for symptoms of meningitis for the coming months.

Symptoms of meningitis, an inflammation of brain and spinal tissues, can include severe headaches, fever, and stiffness in the joints or neck. The disease can be caused by infection of a microorganism or virus.

Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health says that the cooperative investigation involving both the DPH and the FDA is trying to determine just how companies New England Compounding Center and Ameridose should be regulated to prevent future complications. She also pushed Congress to act.  

At a press availability earlier this week, Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick said that he believed NECC violated its state licensce by manufacturing and selling the drugs on a large scale, instead of filling prescriptions for specific patients. He said that the company may have “misled” state and federal authorities, but declined to go into detail.

Dr. Michael Carome, Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group advocated for a Congressional hearing and investigation on the entire situation, including holding federal regulators accountable for a lack of oversight if proven.

Investigation between state and federal authorities on the actions of NECC are ongoing. Officials did say that there is no risk of contamination or relation with conventional flu shots.

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Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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