News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 5, 2012

Valley hospital in meningitis recall

Union Hospital contacting patients that received epidural steroid injections in back with possibly tainted medicine

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Wabash Valley patients who received potentially contaminated medicine are getting calls from a Terre Haute hospital, officials confirmed Thursday.

Kim Perkins, Union Hospital’s system director of public relations and marketing, said staff was busy contacting patients that day concerning the epidural steroid injections administered locally. The company which distributed the medicine has been tied to a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis with five deaths across six states reported as of Thursday evening.

 Union Hospital has administered about 100 doses of the medication to approximately 85 patients, she said.

“Currently we’re contacting any of our patients who might have been exposed to that medication and are talking to them personally to make sure they’re aware of it,” she said, adding individuals who believe they might have received a dose should contact their physician immediately.

Officials at an Evansville hospital say about 560 patients received the injections. St. Mary’s Health spokeswoman Laura Forbes said 10 of the roughly 250 of those patients the hospital had contacted were experiencing symptoms that could be consistent with fungal meningitis.

Forbes said the hospital is taking the situation “very seriously” and is trying to contact the remaining patients. Between 50 and 60 of the 560 patients received multiple injections of the drug.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include severe and worsening headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. Some patients also experience slurred speech, and difficulty walking and urinating. The time from infection to onset of symptoms is estimated at anywhere from a few days to a month, so some people may not have fallen ill yet.

Government officials are urging hospitals to avoid all products distributed by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. As of Thursday evening, 35 patients were affected in six states and five had died, according to a report issued by the Associated Press.

Massachusetts health officials said the pharmacy involved, the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass., has recalled three lots consisting of a total of 17,676 single-dose vials of the steroid, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we advise all health care practitioners not to use any product” from the company, said Lisa Bernstein, director of compliance for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

According to a media release issued by the Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana is one of six states to have received potentially contaminated lots of methylprednisolone acetate, used to treat chronic back pain via epidural.

All infected patients reportedly received injection with preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate (80mg/ml) prepared by the New England Compounding Center, of Framingham, Mass. The company has voluntarily recalled the product, which was distributed in 23 states. Union Hospital was one of six sites in Indiana to have received those products earlier in July. Other facilities include the Ambulatory Care Center, LLP in Evansville, the Fort Wayne Physical Medicine, the OSMC Outpatient Surgery Center in Elkhart, the South Bend Clinic and Wellspring in Columbus.

Perkins said Union Hospital was shocked to learn of the problem.

“The minute we knew there was a problem we immediately pulled the patient list and began calling patients,” she said.

The drug was first issued in July and symptoms of fungal meningitis take upwards of 30 days to appear, she said.

According to information provided by the ISDH, symptoms could include a new or worsening headache, fever, neck stiffness or pain at the injection site. More information about fungal meningitis is available online at www.cdc.gov/meningitis/fungal.html.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.