In mid-2012, an outbreak of fungal meningitis was caused by steroid injections. These injections are commonly used to treat pain and swelling caused by chronic back pain and joint disorders, such as arthritis. They are typically injected into the spinal cord, as well as joints in the knees, shoulders, hips, or elbows. Steroid meningitis of the spinal cord is more dangerous than other locations in the body.
The New England Compounding Center (NECC) manufactured and distributed the contaminated steroid injections. It is estimated that NECC distributed more than 10,000 contaminated steroids throughout the United States. As of March 2013, more than 700 cases of steroid meningitis were reported. In the same period, reports indicate that 50 deaths resulted from steroid meningitis and secondary infections.
What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is a bacterial infection that affects the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. These membranes are called meninges. Meningitis can be caused by a series of agents, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Meningitis caused by viruses is typically the mildest form. Bacterial and fungal meningitis infections are severe. If untreated or improperly treated, these forms of meningitis can lead to brain damage and death.
Steroid meningitis is caused by fungi. Reports indicate that the contaminated steroids contained fungi such as Exserohilum rostratum and Aspergillus fumigatus. Steroid meningitis is treated with high doses of antifungal medications. These medications are usually given intravenously, or through an IV. Treatment duration depends on the patient’s immune system status. Treatment is typically longer for those who suffer weakened immune systems due to conditions like diabetes, AIDS, or cancer.
Steroid Meningitis Symptoms
Steroid meningitis is particularly dangerous, as it can be more difficult to diagnose and cure. Additionally, steroid meningitis infections in the spinal cord exhibit symptoms that are similar to the chronic back pain that many patients originally sought steroid treatment for. While steroid meningitis is not contagious, it is potentially fatal if patients do not receive immediate treatment.
The incubation period is typically four to six weeks. This means that patients begin to experience symptoms roughly four to six weeks after receiving the contaminated steroid injections. The most common steroid meningitis symptoms include worsening headaches, nausea, vomiting, and a stiff neck.
Steroid meningitis symptoms also include:
- Fever and chills
- Flu-like symptoms
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Loss of balance
- Changes in mental state
- Photophobia, or sensitivity to light
In September 2012, the NECC issued a voluntary recall of three lots of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate that was primarily associated with the steroid meningitis outbreak. In October 2012, the NECC expanded the recall to include all products that were compounded and distributed from its facility in Framingham, Massachusetts.
After the onset of the steroid meningitis outbreak, the FDA and CDC conducted investigations of several NECC products for possible contamination. The investigation revealed several species of Bacillus and similar bacteria in unopened vials of other products. The FDA and CDC strongly advised that healthcare professionals discontinue use of all NECC products. Months after the outbreak, the NECC has declared bankruptcy.
Steroid Meningitis Lawsuits
In March 2013, Traci Maccoux of Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against a pain clinic called Medical Advanced Pain Specialists. Maccoux claims that the clinic was negligent in administering contaminated steroids. She was hospitalized for 10 days after developing steroid meningitis. Since developing the condition, she was unable to work or drive and was forced to drop out of school. Her medical bills total more than $110,000.
Patients who developed steroid meningitis from a steroid injection in 2012 may be eligible to receive financial compensation. Compensation can help to cover medical bills, lost wages from missed work, pain, and suffering. Those who wish to file a claim should speak with an experience attorney to discuss legal options.