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Meningitis scare likely to have come to Chicago

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The fungal meningitis contamination scare has likely come home to Chicago.

State health officials are releasing a little more information on an apparent case here, all the while as the number of victims increases nationally.

Tests have not yet confirmed it, but the clinical diagnosis is that one Chicagoan has contracted fungal meningitis.

"From all reports the person is receiving treatment and doing okay," said Director of Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. "That's all we can say at this point. So they're in treatment. They're receiving treatment and hopefully they're recovering."

The unidentified patient, health officials say, received an epidural steroid injection sometime within the past four months. That steroid is believed to have been contaminated.

APAC, a multi-office pain management center, is the only Illinois health care provider to have received the suspect medication at three locations, one in the professional offices at Thorek Hospital, another at Weiss, and a third in suburban Westchester.

"As soon as we had the information, we stopped using all those medicines," said Dr. Randolph Chang, APAC Medical Director.

The tainted pain relief medication had not been linked to any patients at APAC when we talked to the firm's medical director last Tuesday. But there is an incubation period, and the State Department of Public Health says records show 364 Illinois patients at APAC were directly exposed to the medication that's believed to have been contaminated.

"Of those 364, we have traced them back and contacted them, a vast majority, probably 95 percent," Chang said. "Maybe a handful we've not contacted yet."

The universe of people in Illinois who are potentially at risk is 364 people, but nationally the number is much larger, roughly 14,000 in 23 states. They've been exposed after receiving injections of methylprednisolone acetate, a commonly used pain relief medication.

The problem is that three batches of the steroid prepared at the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts were somehow contaminated, no one knows why yet, resulting in an outbreak of over 200 cases of fungal meningitis cases, 15 of which have resulted in deaths.

So-called drug compounding centers, like the one in question here, face less FDA regulation than do drug manufacturers, so the fungal meningitis outbreak, with its fatal consequences, have led to calls for tighter oversight.

Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control are trying to identify what caused the contamination, and reach everyone who may still be at some level of risk.

Fungal Meningitis is not contagious.

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