BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The nationwide meningitis outbreak linked to one Massachusetts pharmacy is quietly growing even more deadly. Four more people have died in the last week and 50 new cases have been reported.
As more people die from getting tainted steroid shots, a Maryland woman reveals her panic when she kept getting sicker and no one knew why. She tells Mary Bubala she went in for a shot and walked out with meningitis.
A simple step to relieve back pain– a steroid shot–became a death sentence for two dozen people across the nation as hundreds of others found out fungal meningitis is making them sick, including 34-year-old Patricia Pugh of Harford County.
“I took myself into the hospital and they admitted me,” Pugh said.
As the number of sick and dying grows, Patricia Pugh puts a face on the innocent victims, sharing her emotional story with WJZ. She says she started feeling sick two days after getting the tainted injection.
“My head started pounding; my neck started getting stiff,” she said.
For weeks, she was in and out of the hospital with severe flu-like symptoms. She worried over what might be wrong and got no answer from her doctors. Then she got a phone call from her clinic.
“He said, ‘Have you had any flu-like symptoms or anything?’ and I said, `Yes, sir; I have been sick ever since I got that shot,'” she said.
Three months after she got sick, a spinal tap confirmed she has fungal meningitis, which attacks spinal fluid and the brain. The Harford County mother of five is hospitalized and getting powerful IV anti-fungal medication.
“My kids come in every day and they just hug me and they just keep saying, `Are you OK? Are you OK? Mommy, I love you,'” Pugh said.
The tainted steroid given to Patricia Pugh was produced by a compounding lab in Massachusetts and shipped to 23 states.
In Maryland, it ended up in seven clinics.
“It seemed like the numbers were rising so much, rising so fast,” she said.
This week, state health leaders confirm a 22nd person in Maryland contracted fungal meningitis. Nationwide, 28 have died and more than 370 are sick.
“I was scared for my children,” Pugh said. “I was saying crazy things and my family told me to stop talking like that.”
What happened to Pugh and to hundreds like her reveals a serious flaw. While most pharmacies are heavily regulated, hundreds of compounding labs that create customized dosages for patients may be falling between the cracks.
Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings is the ranking member of the House oversight committee demanding change.
“We cannot have in this country people dying when they go to get shots to address health issues,” Cummings said.
He says whether it’s the feds or the state, somebody must regulate these compounding labs.
“Our responsibility is to make sure government is doing what it’s supposed to do. The problem here is whether the state was responsible or the federal government was responsible,” Cummings said.
Pugh has lost her faith in the system that allowed tainted drugs to harm her.
“No [I will never get the shot again],” she said. “I’m scared. I will stay in pain for the rest of my life before I get another shot.”
Pugh has hired an attorney and, like others across the nation, plans to sue the Massachusetts pharmacy over the contaminated injections. It could become a class action lawsuit.