Deadly meningitis outbreak spreads to eighth U.S. state

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct 6 (Reuters) - A widening outbreak offungal meningitis has spread to Minnesota, which reported twocases to become the eighth U.S. state affected, officials saidon Saturday.

The added cases bring to 52 the number of people who havefallen ill after receiving steroid injections linked to apharmacy in Massachusetts. At least five people have died.

"Both women are in their 40s who showed possible symptoms ofmeningitis," including fever and headache, said Buddy Ferguson,spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Evidence of meningitis was found in their spinal fluid, hesaid. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering thebrain and spinal cord.

Other states with reported cases of people who fell illafter receiving the injections - primarily for back pain - areMichigan, Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolinaand Indiana.

Vials of steroids linked to the outbreak were shipped to 76facilities in 23 states and could have been used to injectthousands of patients, authorities have said.

Both women in Minnesota were hospitalized and being treatedwith antibiotics and anti-fungal drugs, officials said.

As in other states where the outbreak has been detected,Minnesota authorities are trying to find out who else may havebeen infected at six locations known to have used the implicateddrugs, Ferguson said.

"We have identified a list of approximately 950 people whodid receive injectable steroids from the implicated lots," hesaid, adding that authorities are in the process of contactingeach patient.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported47 cases of meningitis on Friday and has provided no updatesince then. However, along with the two fresh cases inMinnesota, Michigan has reported an additional two cases andNorth Carolina added one not included in the CDC count, bringingthe national total to 52.

Tennessee, where the outbreak first was detected, accountsfor most of the cases at 29, state officials said on Friday.

Three of the deaths have been in Tennessee, and one each inVirginia and Maryland.

In Tennessee, many patients remain hospitalized, some listedin critical condition.

The infected patients have shown a variety of symptoms fromone to four weeks after their injections, including fever, a newor worsening headache, nausea and neurological problems thatwould be consistent with deep brain stroke, the CDC said.

All the cases have been traced to three lots of the steroidprepared at New England Compounding Center Inc in Framingham,Massachusetts. The company said it has suspended its operationswhile the investigation proceeds.

The Massachusetts Health Department said there were 17,676vials of medication in each of three lots of methylprednisoloneacetate sent out from July through September and have a shelflife of 180 days.

So far the tally of cases includes 29 in Tennessee, six inMichigan, six in Virginia, three in Indiana, two in NorthCarolina, two in Minnesota, two in Florida and two in Maryland.

The steroid was sent to California, Connecticut, Florida,Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan,Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada,New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina,Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and West Virginia, the CDC said.

A list of facilities that used vials from the infected lotscan be found online via the website cdc.gov.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Will Dunham)


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