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New health problems for fungal meningitis victims who survive initial infection

Nov 7, 2012

Victims of the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a contaminated epidural steroid injection drug who are fortunate to survive the infection may now be facing more health risks.

According to a report from Gannett News services, a growing number of people who recently overcame a bout of fungal meningitis after they received a contaminated steroid injection for treatment of back pain have now developed secondary complications. Several dozen people have been diagnosed with epidural abscesses or arachnoiditis after they've recovered from the life-threatening infection.

These epidural abscesses are pus-filled infections that rest on the epidural level fo the spine. Arachnoiditis is marked by a compression of spinal nerves and is extremely painful, the report added. 

To date, 30 people have died after they were diagnosed with fungal meningitis linked to an injection drug they received in the weeks or months prior to their death. The drug was manufactured by a Massachusetts company, New England Compounding Center, which has since recalled the drugs and remains closed amid state, federal, and private investigations into conditions at the company's headquarters that likely impacted the safety of the epidural injection.

Another 420 people, as of Wednesday, were infected with life-threatening but non-fatal cases of fungal meningitis and those who've been fortunate enough to endure the infection have begun experiencing these secondary complications. 

Health officials at the state and federal levels are wondering currently how best to deal with this latest development and what risks these new conditions pose to those who've just recovered from fungal meningitis. The rates at which these complications develop is alarming, though. In Michigan, the second-most affected state in the outbreak, of the 119 infections reported, 51 people have developed epidural abscesses or arachnoiditis after recovering from fungal meningitis.

Some victims of the outbreak were released from their initial hospital stay after they had already developed epidural abscesses and would endure them until they caused "intractable pain, stroke, worsening symptoms, and problems with infusing antifungal medications," the report notes.

Puzzling investigators in this case is the fact that epidural abscesses typically develop prior to a bout of fungal meningitis. In these cases, the complications occur after a person has recovered. Epidural abscesses are easier to treat than arachnoiditis, according to the report.

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