Indiana has been one of the hardest-hit states in a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak that has caused more than three hundred illnesses and over twenty deaths in eighteen states. Health officials believe an injectable medication from a Massachusetts pharmacy is the source of the infection. The pharmacy has recalled the medicine and ceased its facility’s operations. It is already facing lawsuits from victims alleging injury from a defective product, and Indiana state officials are seeking to suspend its license. Some victims may also be pursuing causes of action for medical negligence against the doctors and healthcare facilities that prescribed or administered the allegedly contaminated drugs.
At least forty-three reported cases, out of a national total, so far, of 328, are in Indiana. Three of the Indiana patients have died. The total death toll, as of October 25, 2012, is twenty-four. Investigations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined that the fungal infection came from injections of methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid-based anti-inflammatory medication used to treat back pain. Authorities traced contaminated vials to the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, Massachusetts. They suspect that the contamination occurred during the compounding process.
Victims are suffering from fungal meningitis, an infection affecting the spinal cord. Other types of meningitis may result from communicable viral or bacterial infections, but fungal meningitis is not contagious between people. It usually develops when an infectious fungus species gets into the bloodstream, such as through an injection, and spreads to the victim’s spine. The CDC believes it has identified the fungal species Exserohilum rostratum in at least fifty-two patients. The disease can be fatal, particularly in patients with compromised immune systems, and it can cause severe headaches, nausea, light sensitivity, and disorientation.