Harford epidural patients could be at risk for rare meningitis

Patients who received epidural spinal injections at three Harford County facilities could be at risk of developing a rare fungal meningitis, according to a new warning from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Two Maryland residents have already contracted the disease, and one died. The situation is part of a multi-state investigation of a meningitis outbreak.

The state identified seven facilities that were distributing Solumedrol (methylprednisolone acetate) from one manufacturer between July 30 and Sept. 28.

They include three local health care providers: Box Hill Surgery Center in Abingdon, Harford County Ambulatory Surgery Center in Edgewood and SurgCenter of Bel Air.

The manufacturer, which was not identified, has voluntarily recalled the product.

Box Hill Surgery Center spent the past week working to provide information to patients who could be subject to developing symptoms of the rare disease, medical director Ritu Bhambhani said Thursday.

"I have been in practice a little over 11 years. I have yet to see a case of meningitis," Bhambhani said of the disease. "Since it came out in the news, we have had multiple patients call and I am trying to address [their concerns]. We are making sure they are not downplaying any symptoms."

She did not have a number of how many Box Hill patients might be affected because she said the lists were still being compiled.

"So far, we have informed patients. It's almost a two-month period [of potentially affected patients]," she noted. "We are basically contacting all our patients."

SurgCenter of Bel Air has been less affected, nurse administrator Janice Stewart said.

"Thankfully for us, it was only six patients [who had the procedure]," Stewart said. "Hopefully no one will turn up for anything."

The outbreak was first identified when several patients in Tennessee developed meningitis or stroke symptoms within a month of getting an epidural spinal injection with a steroid.

Aspergillus meningitis was identified in one of the patients, but no organism has been identified in the others, according to the press release.

Meningitis can cause complications that include brain damage, hearing loss and seizures, as well as death, depending on the type of meningitis.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, neck stiffness, extreme light sensitivity, nausea or vomiting. Stroke symptoms can include double vision, slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body, or difficulty walking.

Harford County Health Department spokesman Bill Wiseman sent a press release saying: "The Harford County Health Department is providing its full cooperation in the investigation, is strictly adhering to MD DHMH [Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] protocols, and is maintaining communication with DHMH on a regular basis."

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