SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — A fifth person has died in a growing outbreak of a rare form of meningitis that has sickened more than two dozen people in five U.S. states and health officials believe that more new cases of fungal meningitis are almost certain to appear in the coming days.
Deaths have been reported in Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee. People have also become ill in North Carolina and Florida.
This latest death occurred at a hospital in Nashville late Wednesday or early Thursday.
In all cases, people received steroid injections used mostly for back pain. They’ve been traced back to a specialty pharmacy in Framingham.
The New England Compounding Center has suspended operations, saying it is working with Massachusetts authorities. The company issued a recall last week.
Dr. Richard Besser says fungal meningitis is not contagious. Dave Madsen spoke with the ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor. He told him this outbreak is a concern.
Besser says, “A fungal infection is a very serious infection. It’s hard to treat and can be devastating. And so if you received an injection of steroids for back pain, you can check with your doctor and see if it’s the product that’s been recalled. And then if you develop any symptoms of meningitis, a stiff neck, high fever, bad headache, see your doctor immediately so you can get treated.”
In addition to fungal, there are other types of meningitis like viral and bacterial.
Besser says bacterial meningitis is the one doctors really worry about because it’s transmitted person to person.
Besser says fungal meningitis is not. “This type of meningitis, a fungal infection, is really only seen in people who have problems with their immune system or, in a situation like this, where it’s injected directly into your spinal column. Meningitis is an inflammation or infection around your brain and around your spine. And our immune systems are really good at keeping this fungus, this mold out. It had to get in these people directly to cause harm.”
Doctors leading the investigation say they expect to find more cases. If the pharmacy shipped the steroid to many states, it’s possible many more people across the country will become ill with the hard-to-treat infection.