Fungal meningitis cases on the rise in neighboring states

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It's an outbreak we're seeing in several neighboring states. People are getting sick with fungal meningitis after receiving a very common and popular pain treatment - steroid injections. Those are most commonly used for back pain.

So far, five people have died in this outbreak. Thirty are ill. Kentucky, right now, is lucky enough not to have any cases in the state. But from what WKYT is learning, the company that made the medications is licensed in all 50 states. There is a possibility we could soon find out about more infections.

Health experts believe the meningitis outbreak started in a single steroid manufacturing plant.

"This would be very similar to outbreaks you might see in the food industry where there's a single plant that is processing food and contamination occurs at that plant. In this case it's a single plant that processes steroids," explains Dr. Peter Wright with The Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass.

Packaged in Massachusetts and sent to clinics in more than 20 states, the back injection has infected patients in six states, some neighboring Kentucky. The states are - Tennessee, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, and Florida.

"Most pain clinics or doctors offices that deal with steroids are going to be able to trace back the source of the steroid. And in our case we do not trace back to that plant," says Dr. Wright.

Patients at The Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass can breathe a sigh of relief over that information.

Dr. Wright says the infection is rare, but if found, can be serious.

"If you've had an injection in the last month and have symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, possibly a change in mental status, I would strongly advise the patient to seek medical care."

Dr. Wright emphasizes steroid injections are one of the most common ways to treat back pain. As with any injection, there is always a risk. Doctors also point out that this form of meningitis is not contagious.

The New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts has recalled more than 17,000 of the vials believed to be contaminated.

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