Second case of fungal meningitis strikes in S. Jersey

Posted: October 12, 2012

A second South Jersey resident is hospitalized with symptoms of the fungal meningitis that is now linked to 137 illnesses and 12 deaths nationwide, health officials said Wednesday.

The 57-year-old man - like the 70-year-old man whose case was announced Tuesday - lives in Cumberland County and is recovering with antifungal medication at South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center in Vineland.

The man received a spinal injection at the medical center July 12, the state Health Department said. He started getting headaches two to three weeks later.

He was contacted by South Jersey Healthcare last weekend as part of an effort to notify its 124 patients who had been injected with the tainted steroid, a health system spokesman said. At a special clinic set up for those patients, he was evaluated Monday with a worsening headache, stiff neck, and increased sensitivity to light - all classic symptoms of the infection - and sent to the emergency room. He was admitted Tuesday.

Although the nationwide outbreak was recognized only in mid-September, his case shows the challenge of finding illnesses that could go back almost to May 21, when the first of more than 17,000 potentially contaminated vials were shipped nationwide. The recall began Sept. 25.

Health officials say that most of the 13,000 patients who received contaminated medication will not get sick, and that only epidural injections, near the spine, have the potential to cause deadly illness. But the severity of symptoms varies. They first show up after one to four weeks.

Just three locations in the Philadelphia region received contaminated shipments from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., federal officials said.

They are South Jersey Healthcare's hospitals in Vineland and Elmer, and Premier Orthopedics Surgical Associates in Vineland. Four North Jersey locations also got tainted lots, as did clinics in Altoona and Jefferson Hills, Pa.; no infections in Pennsylvania have been reported.

The man whose case was the first identified in New Jersey got his shot Sept. 26 at Premier, before the practice was notified of the recall, a state Health Department spokeswoman said.

Fungal meningitis cannot be spread from person to person. It is a rare inflammation of membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord after infection by a fungus.

Authorities have not identified the original source of the fungus that contaminated three lots of methylprednisolone acetate from the Massachusetts pharmacy, which shut down last week and recalled all of its products.

Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday that the New England Compounding Center may have "misled" state and federal regulators and done work beyond the scope of its state license.

The company was supposed to fill specific prescriptions for specific patients, Patrick said. "What they were doing, instead, is making big batches and selling them out of state as a manufacturer would, and that is certainly outside of their state license."


This article contains information from the Associated Press.

Contact Don Sapatkin at 215-854-2617 or dsapatkin@phillynews.com.

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