Fungal meningitis is a severe, acute infection that can be fatal if not treated right away. This condition can also be caused by bacteria or viruses, and people who are affected by the fungal version tend to have a weakened immune system. However, in some cases, drug contamination can be the culprit. Beginning in May 2012, contaminated epidural steroid injections were given to around 13,000 patients. This medication naturally suppresses the immune system significantly, which has resulted in an outbreak of the disease.
This illness is normally rare in the U.S. and only around three people out of 100,000 contract a form of it every year. Fungal meningitis is the least common of three, but can be just as fatal as bacterial or viral versions. The contaminated epidural steroid injections were produced at the New England Compound Center and sent out in three shipments to 75 medical organizations around the country. Compounding centers are facilities that mix medications intended for a range of applications. These pharmacies are not as tightly regulated as standard drug manufacturers, and their products are not subjected to FDA approval. This greatly increases the risk of manufacturing defects causing disease outbreaks and injury.
This disease has a gradual onset, and it may take weeks before it fully presents itself. Fungal meningitis may cause headaches and fever during this incubation period, though most patients are not diagnosed with the illness until severe symptoms show up. These symptoms include a debilitating headache, altered mental status and nuchal rigidity (an inability to move the neck forward due to neck muscle stiffness). Other symptoms may include intolerance to bright light or loud noises. Cryptococcus neoformans is usually the species responsible for this form of the disease, and once it is in the body it travels to the tissues lining the brain and provokes an immune response. The immune response is what causes the real danger, as regulatory cells in the body increase blood flow to the brain to combat the invaders. As a result, the blood brain barrier becomes permeable, which allows fluid to seep into the linings surrounding the brain. The three tissues that encase the brain – the pia mater, the arachnoid mater and the dura mater – swell and exert pressure on the delicate nerve tissue in the brain. This can result in permanent and severe complications, including cognitive dysfunction, hearing loss, hydrocephalus and epilepsy. When left untreated, the condition almost always ends in death, and it must be caught quickly to prevent long lasting complications.
Any woman who has received epidural steroid injections recently should contact the facility they received it from. The CDC has put together a list of medical organizations that have received the drug from the NECC. Facilities that have received the drug have been contacting patients who have been administered the medication. These patients will be screened for the presence of fungal meningitis. These diagnostic methods may include a lumbar puncture, which is a painful procedure that removes spinal fluid from the body. This fluid will be checked for Cryptococcus and other agents.
Many who have been infected with the disease have chosen to contact a personal injury lawyer to help them with compensation. These victims are often eligible for compensation for pain, suffering and medical bills.