News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 6, 2012

Hospital contacting patients tied to med scare

TERRE HAUTE — All local patients involved in the national outbreak of fungal meningitis tied to a steroid used for back pain have been identified and a contact process is under way, hospital officials said Friday.

Dr. John Bolinger, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Union Hospital, said two of the involved patients had already arrived at the facility’s emergency department for examination, but no diagnosis of fungal meningitis had been issued.

Bolinger said the hospital will “work with patients” regarding bills associated with the incident.

Meanwhile, concern throughout the community was the main topic addressed at a news conference, as Bolinger and others said 90 patients received the drug associated with a recent outbreak of fungal meningitis.

Those 90 patients, all of whom have been identified, would have received by injection preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate (80mg/ml) prepared by the New England Compounding Center, of Framingham, Mass. 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 Ft. Wayne Physical Medicine, the OSMC Outpatient Surgery Center in Elkhart, the South Bend Clinic and Wellspring in Columbus.

Bolinger said the injectable steroid typically given for back pain was administered at the Wabash Valley Surgery Center between the dates of July 15 and Sept. 26.

The New England Compounding Center issued a voluntary recall on Sept. 26, at which point Union Hospital immediately pulled its supply, he said, adding anyone receiving the drug before or after those dates would not have been affected. Individuals taking oral medications would likewise not be included in the group.

Bolinger said 85 of the patients have been spoken with personally over the phone and the remaining five were left voicemails. Follow-up contact attempts are ongoing, he said.

Fungal 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.

The condition is not contagious, he said, emphasizing the importance of the public remaining calm.

Meanwhile, government officials are urging hospitals to avoid all products distributed by the New England Compounding Center. 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.

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