Meningitis outbreak reaches Georgia

A 66-year-old Bibb County woman is the state’s first case of fungal meningitis related to contaminated epidural steroid injections.

The woman is clinically stable and is not hospitalized, the state Department of Public Health said Tuesday.

Across the nation, 23 people have died and close to 300 have become ill with fungal meningitis linked to steroid shots prepared by the New England Compounding Center (NECC), located in Framingham, Mass.

The Bibb patient is among the people who reported symptoms after receiving an injection for back pain at the Forsyth Street Ambulatory Surgery Center in Macon.

Earlier this month, 41NBC/WMGT in Macon reported that officials with the Forsyth Street surgery center said a total of eight patients had been referred to their primary physicians after complaining of mild meningitis symptoms. The Bibb woman is so far the only surgery center patient in whom fungal meningitis has been confirmed.

Public health officials said 189 patients of the surgery center were injected with tainted steroids used to treat back pain. How many of them are likely to develop problems as a result is unclear. According to the surgery center, all the patients who received the contaminated steroids have been contacted.

With the confirmed case, Georgia becomes the 17th state hit by the meningitis outbreak.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by an infection, frequently with bacteria or a virus, but it can also be caused by less common pathogens, such as fungi in this case, according to the CDC.

Fungal meningitis is very rare and, unlike viral and bacterial meningitis, is not contagious.

The state Department of Public Health said it has been working with Georgia physicians and physician assistants to raise awareness about patients who have symptoms that suggest possible fungal infection.

The symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and altered mental status. Symptoms of other possible infections may include fever; swelling, increasing pain, redness, warmth at injection site; visual changes, pain, redness or discharge from the eye; chest pain; or drainage from the surgical site..

Dr. Chuck Richardson, a founding partner at the Macon surgery center, told the Associated Press recently that the steroid injections benefit people suffering from chronic back pain who cannot or do not want surgery to treat their condition and have not responded to other conventional treatments, such as physical therapy or anti-inflammatory drugs.

The surgery center has stopped using all drugs produced by NECC. Richardson said that before then, he had treated about 800 patients annually for three years with the injections.

A Reuters story Tuesday reported that, according to newly released state health records, the compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts escaped harsh punishment from health regulators several times in the years leading up to the deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak.