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Potential fungal meningitis investigated by LA health department

October 8, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The outbreak of a rare form of fungal meningitis has killed eight people and sickened 105 in 23 states. Now, the L.A. County Department of Public Health is investigating potential cases in the area.

One patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center was tested for the disease, but the test was negative.

Doctors wanted to test the spinal fluid of that patient because that person was receiving steroid injections from a compounding pharmacy in Palmdale, Universal Pain Management, which received tainted medicine.

A spokesman for Universal Pain Management confirmed their compounding pharmacy received tainted vials of steroids contaminated by a fungus.

Universal Pain Management CEO Lance Jackson said all the tainted lots have been removed, but he does believe there are patients who have received contaminated shots. He said those patients have been contacted. They are being asked to get testing and are being monitored.

Emergency room physician Dr. Eric El-Tobgy at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center says it can take weeks for symptoms to develop.

"I'm guessing that some people were injected and didn't contract the fungal meningitis," he said. "(It) breaks down the blood vessels and actually causes strokes."

Along with the Palmdale site, the other two Southern California facilities listed by the Centers for Disease Control as receiving tainted vials include Encino Outpatient Surgicenter in Encino and Cypress Surgery Center in Visalia.

El-Tobgy says just because you received the tainted shot doesn't mean you'll develop the disease, but he says patients should be aware of the symptoms, which includes fever, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting prolonged or persistent headache and confusion.

The national outbreak is linked to steroid injections used to treat back pain. Health officials say the pharmacy that sent the contaminated drugs was a New England Compounding Center. The center is one of thousands of pharmacies that mix their own medicines. They don't have to meet FDA safety standards, which has outraged some critics.

"These pharmacies were designed to provide products for local people in your community, and that's not what happened here," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' Chief health and medical editor.

The number of fungal meningitis cases skyrocketed over the weekend to 105 confirmed cases. There are no confirmed cases in California. Up to 13,000 people may have been exposed to the contaminated lot.

Health officials are on high alert and want the public to know that early treatment can improve the outcome. If you exhibit any symptoms, contact your doctor.


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