Fungal meningitis cases unlikely to hit NWI
By Mark Taylor Post-Tribune correspondent October 5, 2012 3:32PM
Updated: November 7, 2012 6:08AM
Retired East Chicago steelworker Joe Gutierrez was concerned when he heard news reports of fungal meningitis deaths due to steroids administered through epidural shots.
Epidurals are common spinal injection treatments to relieve back and other kinds of pain. One week ago Gutierrez received an epidural.
This week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced five U.S. deaths traceable to three batches of allegedly contaminated methylprednisolone acetate, an anti-inflammation drug. The CDC confirmed that 35 patients in six states have been sickened by fungal meningitis. The Indiana State Department of Health has reported three cases, but no deaths.
“I heard about it on the news and my son called me from Florida to tell me I ought to look into it,” said Gutierrez, 71, who suffers from severe back pain.
“I couldn’t sleep. Even walking was excruciating. The two epidurals really relieved my pain, but I didn’t want to get this infection,” he said. “When I heard about these meningitis cases, I didn’t know if this would affect me.”
Gutierrez’s physician, Munster pain specialist Dr. Brian McClenic, said the shots he administered were not purchased from the Framingham, Mass.-based New England Compounding Center that prepared the infected batches.
“Our patients’ risk (for fungal meningitis) is close to zero,” said McClenic, a board certified pain medicine and anesthesiology specialist with the Interventional Spine and Pain Centers.
“That’s a big relief,” Gutierrez said.
McClenic said his office has received dozens of phone calls from concerned patients inquiring about the steroids his office uses.
“The meningitis cases have been isolated to one compounding pharmacy,” he said. “Most Northwest Indiana doctors and hospitals purchase their medications directly from the drug manufacturers, who package and ship the drugs themselves and are held to more stringent quality standards than the compounding pharmacies.”
However, McClenic cautioned that infections always remain a possibility when drugs are administered into the spine.
“We always tell people about the potential risk of infection, but it is very rare,” he said.
“I would tell local patients that they should not be fearful of becoming infected by this fungal infection, but advise them that if they experience any symptoms suggesting infection — fever, chills and a significant increase in back or leg pain — to contact their doctor or visit the emergency room.”
According to the CDC, symptoms of fungal meningitis include severe neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting. But the CDC said epidural injections are generally very safe and fungal meningitis infections from epidurals are very rare.
The contaminated steroids were distributed in 23 states and sold to six Hoosier health facilities in Columbus, Elkhart, Evansville, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Terre Haute. The department of health said patients who have received epidurals from those contaminated lots will be contacted by those health care centers.
ISDH State Epidemiologist Pam Pontones advised patients who have received epidurals to contact their doctors to be sure they did not receive contaminated drugs.