In 2012, several contaminated steroid back injections caused a meningitis outbreak that claimed hundreds of lives. This disease causes severe acute inflammation of protective tissues around the brain and spinal cord. If left untreated, the immense amount of pressure put on nervous tissue will often result in death, and even people who recover may experience permanent neural dysfunction. Fortunately, this disease is normally warded off by a healthy immune system. However, when a person receives contaminated medication, it can quickly overpower a person’s natural defenses.
This was the case during the 2012 outbreak. Contaminated steroid treatments were responsible for the outbreak, and by the time they were recalled, they were already responsible for hundreds of cases in more than a dozen states. This disease is harder to track than most other outbreaks because it is slow to develop. Unlike viral or bacterial forms of the disease, it often presents with a fever that worsens over several days before the classical symptoms of the disease show up. These include altered mental conditions, extreme neck stiffness, and a dangerously high fever. Intolerance to bright light and noise are also common side effects, though they may not be apparent in children affected by the disease. During the opening stages of the illness, sepsis, blood clotting, or gangrene can quickly overwhelm a patient, requiring immediate medical treatment.
The contaminated back injections that caused the meningitis outbreak were traced back to the New England Compounding Center, or NECC. Compounding centers are used to synthesize custom medications for patients that require special drugs. However, these centers are not regulated as closely as standard drug manufacturers. This was a major problem during the NECC incident, because the facility was improperly synthesizing bulk orders of medications for broad use. This violated the center’s license, which meant the NECC was operating illegally. An investigation into the NECC turned up even more violations, with deplorable sanitary conditions. Dust traps on the floor and in the ceiling were filthy, a boiler near the compounding area was leaking, instruments were not sanitized for even the minimum recommended time, and fungi were found in various medications. Worse still, the NECC did not wait for sterility testing results on their products before shipping them out. Compounding centers have had problems with tainted medications in the past, but none have exceeded what happened at the NECC.
As a result of the outbreak, more than 400 lawsuits have been filed to date against the NECC. The back injections that caused meningitis resulted in more than 600 case reports and 40 deaths, profoundly affecting many lives. The NECC’s negligence was responsible for these deaths and has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of the claims against them. Anyone who was affected by a contaminated back injection should consider speaking to a drug injury attorney. With the help of a knowledgeable attorney, a victim may be able to attain restitution for their suffering.