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The U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime will award $40 million to victims of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak that began in the fall of 2012, department officials confirmed Thursday.

The outbreak stemmed from contaminated drugs manufactured by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., federal officials said. The outbreak was first detected in Nashville, Tenn., but quickly became widespread, sickening 776 people and killing 75. In Maryland, 28 people became ill and five died.

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The Massachusetts Department of the Attorney General will handle compensation claims no matter what state the victims live in, according to the Justice Department.

A Maryland lawyer representing an 84-year-old Fallston resident did not respond to a request for comment. The man's family had said he died not long after receiving a spinal shot of a contaminated steroid. The state medical examiner confirmed that he died of the meningitis infection.

Investigations at the time found the fungus growing inside vials of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate injected into patients, most of whom were suffering from back pain.

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

Fungal versions of the disease are rare, and public health officials with little experience with such outbreaks initially were not sure how long the incubation period was. That caused fear among others who believed they received injections of the steroid produced by the company in Framingham.

About 1,500 people in Maryland were thought to have received injections of the tainted medication.

Federal officials have said that fungus-tainted steroids were sent by the center to 76 clinics in 23 states, including seven clinics in Maryland.

Victims already have been able to tap into a $200 million compensation fund established after the bankrupt compounding center's assets were liquidated. The new funds come from assets forfeited by people convicted of crimes and are not taxpayer dollars.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who successfully pushed legislation to improve the safety of compounded medicines after the outbreak, praised creation of the fund on Thursday.

"The actions by this one compounding pharmacy left 75 people dead from fungal meningitis," Mikulski said in a statement. "This should have never happened. It's been four long years for these victims, and they deserve to be compensated for their injuries and deaths of their loved ones. I will continue fighting to ensure the safety and security of our drug supply chain, and make sure a tragedy like this never happens again."

Justice officials announced a 131-count federal criminal indictment involving 14 people connected to the outbreak. The counts included racketeering and second-degree murder in various states.

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