Meningitis investigation expands to Arkansas; more deaths reported

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) – The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has announced that the multi state investigation into a fungal meningitis outbreak has been expanded.

According to ADH, all products manufactured by New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Massachusetts, a single compounding pharmacy, are now under this investigation. The expansion includes drugs shipped to Arkansas, but no fungal meningitis cases have been confirmed in the state so far.

The ADH reports that six hospitals and two clinics in Arkansas has received items from the recalled compounding center. They did not release the names of those hospitals and clinics.

"We understand that people might be concerned about this. We are working with the eight providers (six hospitals and two clinics) in Arkansas who received these products to recall these medicines and notify patients if physicians feel a patient might be at risk for illness," said Dr. Dirk Haselow, medical director, Communicable Diseases and Immunizations.

"They know their patients' medical needs and risk factors and can best identify any patients they may need to contact," added Dr. Haslow.  "None of the products distributed to any Arkansas facility has been associated with illness at this time.  The recall is being done out of an abundance of caution due to conditions observed at the NECC plant."

For now, these actions are only a precautionary measure, said Nate Smith, MD, Deputy Director and State Epidemiologist.

Region 8 News has checked with Arkansas Methodist Medical Center (AMMC); NEA Baptist Hospital, and St. Bernards Hospital to see if they have received any of the recalled products. AMMC, NEA, and St. Bernards say they have not received any products from the recalled Massachusetts plant.

"The FDS and CDC are simply expanding their coverage because they know that certain vials of this medication or these solutions were shipped to Arkansas", says Dr. Shane Speights.

Because of the investigation's expansion, Speights says there's a certain group of people who could possibly be affected.

"Individuals who have received any pain injections into their spinal column through a pain management physician or some other physician who would be administrating some medication like that into the actual spinal column."

There are certain symptoms you should look for if you are concerned.

"Neck pain, head ache, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, sometimes sick to your stomach and some vomiting. Just generally I don't feel well at all."

Dr. Speights urges anyone concerned to take these precautions

"Individuals who have recently had an injection in your back i think it would be a great idea to contact your health care provider and just make sure your name wasn't on that list or you didn't get that medication that was on the recall list."

So far, the Associated Press has reported 231 cases of fungal meningitis, two joint infections, and 19 deaths as a results of the outbreak.

States reporting affected patients are the following:  Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

CDC said this form of meningitis is not contagious, and the investigation includes steroid injections into the spinal area and fungal infections associated with the injections in the joints such as a knee, shoulder, or ankle.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.