UPDATE 1-Deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak increases to 91 cases

(Adds latest numbers from CDC)

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct 7 (Reuters) - U.S. health officials onSunday reported an additional 27 cases in a fungal meningitisoutbreak linked to steroid injections that has killed sevenpeople and now affected 91 in nine states.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)reported a new total of 91 cases in an update on its website, upfrom 64 on Saturday. Most of the new cases were reported inMichigan, where the total increased to 20 from five. Virginia'stotal increased to 18 from 11.

The widening outbreak has alarmed health officials across theUnited States and focused attention on regulations ofpharmaceutical compounding companies like the one that producedthe drugs, the New England Compounding Center Inc in Framingham,Massachusetts.

The company shipped 17,676 vials of the steroidmethylprednisolone acetate to 76 facilities in 23 states fromJuly through September, the Massachusetts Health Departmentsaid.

The steroid is used as a painkiller, usually for the back,and could have been injected in thousands of patients,authorities have said.

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering thebrain and spinal cord, and affected patients started showing avariety of symptoms from one to four weeks after theirinjections.

The company, which was previously the subject of complaints,said it had suspended its operations while an investigationproceeds and has recalled the three lots of the drug.

A compounding pharmacy takes medications frompharmaceuticals manufacturers and makes them into specificdosages and strengths for use by doctors.

The drug ingredients are regulated by the FDA, butcompounders are regulated by state agencies, the industry'strade association said.

Complaints against New England Compounding Center (NECC) in2002 and 2003 about the processing of medication resulted in anagreement with government agencies in 2006 to correctdeficiencies, the Massachusetts Health Department said.

In 2011, there was another inspection of the facility and nodeficiencies were found. In March 2012, another complaint wasmade about the potency of a product used in eye surgeryprocedures. That investigation is continuing, the state healthdepartment said.

The nine states where cases have been reported are Florida,Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio,Tennessee and Virginia.

Tennessee, where the outbreak was first detected, accountedfor most of the cases, with 32, including three deaths. Manypatients there remain hospitalized, some listed in criticalcondition.

Michigan had 20 cases and two deaths. One person died inMaryland and another in Virginia, the CDC said.

Reuters had reported 65 cases on Saturday, including oneadditional case after the CDC published its total.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jackie Frank)