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Multistate Meningitis Outbreak Linked to Tainted Steroids Used in Epidural Steroid Injections for Low Back Pain

In the last few weeks, more reports have surfaced regarding the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak which has been linked to tainted steroids that were administered to patients receiving epidural steroid injections. The total has risen to at least 91 patients in nine states, with seven deaths, health officials said Sunday.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Infected patients have developed a variety of symptoms including fever, a new or worsening headache, nausea and problems similar to those seen in a stroke. This type of meningitis is not contagious and can’t be spread from person to person.

The steroids in question were formulated by a specialty compounding pharmacy in Framingham, Massachusetts, New England Compounding Center, and shipped to 23 states. Compounding pharmacies often make their own medications from basic ingredients and are not under the same stringent regulatory guidelines as the pharmaceutical companies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website lists the names of about 75 clinics in 23 states that had received the injections. Health inspectors found fungus in at least one sealed vial of the steroid at the company’s facility, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The pharmacy has announced a voluntary recall of all of its products as a precautionary measure.

Amid the outbreak, the safety of epidural injections has since been called to question in several media outlets. Epidural steroid injections are a common treatment for lower back pain and sciatica caused by things such as herniated disks, stenosis (spinal narrowing), and pinched nerves. Steroids decrease inflammation, which can ease pain. Performed by properly trained physicians, they are considered a safe and effective method for treating this type of pain and have been used for decades. It is important to understand that the current outbreak has originated from contaminated steroids from a single compounding pharmacy, and not from the procedure itself.

The Orthohealing Center has never received any medications from the New England Compounding Center. In fact, none of the medications we use for epidural injections ever come from any compounding centers. All injectable medications used in our practice come directly from the medication manufacturer and procedures are performed in a sterile fashion to minimize the risk of infections.

Our hearts go out to the patients and families affected by these unfortunate events. With increased awareness from the media coverage, we hope for early detection and treatment for others who may develop symptoms in the coming weeks. More information can be found on the CDC Website.


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