Two more in Md. diagnosed with meningitis

Maryland health officials said Monday that two more people in the state have developed meningitis after receiving a steroid injection for back pain, as an outbreak that has afflicted 105 people nationwide continues to grow.

Five people in Maryland have been diagnosed with the disease in the outbreak linked to the steroid methylprednisolone acetate that was produced and distributed by the New England Compounding Center. One person in Maryland has died of the disease and eight have died nationwide.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it was not releasing details about those infected with the disease. State health officials expect to identify more cases over at least the next month because of the incubation period for meningitis.

New England Compounding Center has recalled the steroid as well as other products it makes at its facility in Framingham, Mass. Federal health officials advised doctors last week not to use drugs made by the company as they conduct an investigation to identify the source of the contamination.

The outbreak was first identified when patients in a Tennessee ambulatory care clinic developed meningitis or stroke symptoms weeks after receiving an epidural spinal injection with the steroid, also known as Solumedrol.

Vials of the steroid were sent to 76 clinics in 23 states, including seven in Maryland. Authorities have said those vials could have been used to inject thousands of patients. People have been infected in nine states.

Maryland clinics have been calling patients who may have been exposed to the disease.

Injections of the potentially contaminated steroid were given beginning May 21, the Centers for Disease Control said Monday. No other products have been implicated in the outbreak.

The meningitis in several patients was found to be caused by a fungus common in the environment, but one that rarely causes meningitis, the CDC said. There are several types of meningitis, and the kind associated with the outbreak is not contagious. The most common types of meningitis are caused by viruses or bacteria.

Epidural steroid injections are typically safe procedures, state officials said.

State health officials are telling patients who received a spinal injection at any of the seven Maryland facilities and have symptoms of meningitis or stroke to contact their doctor.

Meningitis symptoms include fever, headache, neck stiffness, photophobia, nausea, or vomiting. Stroke symptoms include double vision, slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body, or difficulty walking.

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