John C. "Jack" Millhausen, an 84-year-old Fallston resident, is at least the second Marylander to die of fungal meningitis in a national epidemic that experts say is slowing but about which many questions remain.
Millhausen died Nov. 15 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson, his family said, not long after receiving a spinal shot of a contaminated steroid, several batches of which have caused nearly 600 cases of infections and 37 deaths across the country. Maryland health officials confirmed a second death in the state from the outbreak on Monday but would not confirm that it was Millhausen's, citing confidentiality rules.
While health officials said the outbreak appears to be slowing down, they could not rule out the possibility of more deaths occurring in Maryland or elsewhere.
"It is definitely waning, but at this time we definitely can't say it's over," said Dr. Lucy Wilson, chief of surveillance, infection prevention and outbreak response for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Wilson said because the type of outbreak is new to health officials, it has been hard to determine the incubation period of the disease. Federal health officials had initially predicted that the outbreak would run its course in six weeks. The outbreak was first detected in Nashville, Tenn., in September.
"Not until the outbreak has been deemed over will we know the incubation period," Wilson said.
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Fungal versions of the disease are rare, and they are not contagious. Fungus-tainted steroids were produced and distributed by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., and sent to 76 clinics in 23 states, including seven clinics in Maryland.
The first death in Maryland was confirmed Oct. 6. Through Wednesday, 24 cases of fungal meningitis had been reported in Maryland, along with one case involving only a spinal infection.
Millhausen's family declined to be interviewed, based on advice from their lawyer, Patricia J. Kasputys of the Law Offices of Peter Angelos. Kasputys confirmed she is representing the family and investigating whether the tainted steroid injection contributed to or caused Millhausen's death but declined to provide further details on the circumstances of his death.
The state office of the chief medical examiner confirmed that Millhausen died of complications from fungal meningitis stemming from a contaminated steroid injection.
For others who received the injections but have not been diagnosed with fungal meningitis, it remains a nervous wait. Pikesville resident Gerald Cohen is among those who received the tainted injections and has suffered declining health but has shown no sign of developing meningitis when tested with repeated, painful spinal-tap procedures. He joined Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey last month as Markey introduced legislation to address the Food and Drug Administration's authority over compounding pharmacies like the one in Framingham.
A second bill aimed at broadening FDA authority was introduced Dec. 5, but no legislation related to the meningitis outbreak is expected to move forward until after lawmakers resolve the so-called fiscal cliff, according to Reuters.
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