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Meningitis Outbreak Traced To Steroid Used To Relieve Back Pain; Health Officials Brace For More Cases

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Mike Schuh joined WJZ Eyewitness News as a general assignment reporter...
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MARYLAND (WJZ/AP) — Injected to relieve pain, a steroid contaminated with meningitis has killed five people in the U.S., including one right here in Maryland. And nationally, as many as 900 people may have received a potentially dangerous injection.

Mike Schuh has new information.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says seven facilities in the state received the contaminated steroid and are now under the microscope of the government.

Thousands of vials of a contaminated steroid called methlprednisolone acetate was shipped to 23 states. It is commonly used for neck and back pain.

New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts is accused of sending out the contaminated steroids and is now under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They have since shut down their operations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now recommending all healthcare providers stop using any product produced by the compounding center.

Two dozen meningitis cases have surfaced, most in Tennessee. Maryland has had two cases, one fatal.

“DHMH is continuing to work with these healthcare providers in Maryland to identify any new cases,” Dr. Lucy Wilson of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) said.

The state health department has since reached out to people who were given the steroid.

The contaminated steroid was tracked to seven clinics in Maryland– Berlin Interventional Pain Management, the Zion Ambulatory Center in Rosedale, Greenspring Surgery Center in Baltimore, and Maryland Pain Specialists in Towson. In Harford County, the Ambulatory Surgery Center, Box Hill Surgery Center, and the Surgcenter of Bel Air were affected.

A spokesperson for Maryland Pain Specialists in Towson says no patients were given a shot from the tainted batch.

“All of them have pulled the implicated lots of the product and they are in the process of contacting their patients, any patients they think may have been exposed to the product,” Dr. Lucy Wilson of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said.

Wilson says more illnesses are expected and added that hundreds of Maryland residents may have been injected with the product.

She says more illnesses are expected because the incubation period is from one to four weeks. She says it’s important for people who have received the steroid injection in the spinal area who experience fever or worsening headaches to notify their healthcare providers.

She also notes that the illness is treatable.

It’s not clear exactly how many Marylanders received the contaminated injection.

Several Maryland medical facilities spent Thursday calling patients who received injections of the possibly tainted steroid.

“We have a lot of patients that are calling in that are concerned,” said Kim Merrill, the nurse administrator at the Harford County Ambulatory Surgery Center.

Merrill said she believed some 200 to 300 people needed to be contacted. She had no reports that anyone had become ill.

Some patients weren’t waiting to hear from the clinics. Donna Tingle got a shot at one of the facilities on the list.

“I am calling tomorrow to see if I did get one of those shots,” she said.

Those who were exposed will be closely monitored for symptoms. Health officials say the contaminated steroid causes fungal meningitis. Symptoms are very similar to the flu– fever, headache and vomiting. Once injected, doctors say the polluted steroid travels up the spine to the brain.

Dr. Christopher Galuardi, who runs the Berlin clinic, said there were no reports of any of his patients had become ill. Galuardi said he received two lots of the drug recently. He returned one lot of 50 vials unused. Of the 30 vials in the earlier lot, 18 were used and 12 were returned, Galuardi said.

An administrator at the SurgCenter of Bel Air said they had contacted six patients and none reported problems. An administrator at the Greenspring Surgery Center said they had about 300 people to contact and expected to have calls finished Thursday.

Fungal meningitis symptoms can take a month to develop and this variety cannot be passed from person to person. Doctors are being warned not to use any products from the Massachusetts manufacturer as a precaution.

As standard procedure, the state health department will not release the name or location of the person who died in Maryland. The Massachusetts pharmacy released a statement saying they are cooperating with health officials during this investigation.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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