Hundreds of Marylanders might have been exposed to meningitis in a multistate outbreak caused by a contaminated steroid product, health officials are warning.
The outbreak, which has been traced to a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Massachusetts, has led to five deaths, with one in Maryland.
Only one other case has been reported in the state so far, but the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene thinks more will follow because the illness has an incubation period of as long as four weeks, Dr. Lucy Wilson, chief of surveillance, infection prevention and outbreak response for DHMH, said at a news conference Thursday in Baltimore.
The first cases were reported Sept. 21 in Tennessee, where several patients at an ambulatory care clinic developed meningitis or stroke symptoms within a month of having an spinal epidural steroid injection, according to DHMH.
So far, a total of 35 cases have been reported in six states.
“This meningitis is not considered transmissible person to person and is considered to be a treatable infection by a fungus,” Wilson said.
Hundreds of patients in Maryland might have been exposed through such steroid injections, Wilson said.
Federal officials traced the source of the outbreak to the New England Compounding Center, which has voluntarily recalled the product, known as preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate. The injection often is used to treat chronic joint pain, Wilson said.
“[Federal officials] are recommending that all health care providers cease use of any product produced by the [NECC],” Wilson said. “Providers should isolate any such product and hold it until further notice.”
Patients at seven facilities in Maryland potentially could have been exposed to the drug between July 30 and Sept. 28. All seven have pulled the drug from use, according to DHMH.
The facilities are Berlin Interventional Pain Management in Berlin, Box Hill Surgery Center in Abingdon, Greenspring Surgery Center in Baltimore, Harford County Ambulatory Surgery Center in Edgewood, Maryland Pain Specialists in Towson, SurgCenter of Bel Air and Zion Ambulatory Center in Baltimore.
Meningitis symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea and a stiff neck. Stroke symptoms can include blurred vision, slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body and trouble walking, according to DHMH.
Anyone who received a steroid injection from one of the seven locations and is displaying any of those symptoms, or has any problem at the site of the injection, should contact his or her physician for care, Wilson said.
Maryland officials were notified of the problem by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late September, Wilson said.
About eight patients received the procedure at SurgCenter of Bel Air. All had been notified and none reported any symptoms, said Janice Stewart, the facility’s nurse administrator.