Rare meningitis outbreak still unfolding

The nationwide meningitis outbreak is far from over, a leading CDC investigator says.

Dr. John Jernigan, an infectious disease expert, told a group of health journalists Monday in Atlanta that the federal health agency expects to see new cases in the months ahead.

Since the outbreak began, the CDC has been tracking pain clinic patients who received steroid injections contaminated with a fungus that can cause meningitis. So far, more than 14,000 people are believed to have received the injections, 541 have been made sick by them, and 36 people have died.

Under ordinary circumstances, the fungus rarely infects humans. Jernigan, director of the CDC’s Office of Health Associated Infections Prevention Research and Evaluation, and the clinical leader of the meningitis investigation, told the Association of Health Care Journalists gathering that no one had experience with this sort of infection, which first surfaced in Tennessee.

The source of the infections –- contaminated steroids produced by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy –- was determined after a second state, North Carolina, reported a case. Investigators were able to determine common procedures among the patients, Jernigan said.

He said he expects more meningitis cases to be diagnosed in coming months.

As to those patients currently diagnosed –- only one of whom is in Georgia –- Jernigan said they will be on drug therapy for months. He added that it will be difficult to determine when they are finally cured.

Compounding pharmacies fall into a ‘‘gray area’’ in regulation that should be addressed, Jernigan said.

Here’s Atlanta-based health journalist Maryn McKenna’s Twitter reporting from the Jernigan talk.