Wires

UPDATE 1-U.S. meningitis outbreak claims three more lives

(Updates death toll, case numbers, adds first case in NewJersey)

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct 9 (Reuters) - A rare U.S. outbreak offungal meningitis linked to steroid injections has claimed threemore lives and New Jersey became the tenth state to report atleast one case of the illness in a widening health scare, healthauthorities said on Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed that two morepeople had died from meningitis in Tennessee, and one more inMichigan after receiving injections of potentially taintedsteroid, bringing the number of deaths nationwide to 11.

The number of people sickened reached 119 on Tuesday, 14cases more than had been reported by Monday.

The potentially tainted steroid vials, which have beenrecalled, were shipped to 76 facilities in 23 states and some13,000 people may have received injections from the medications,the CDC has said.

The New Jersey Department of Health said a 70-year-oldCumberland County, New Jersey man was hospitalized with apparentfungal meningitis, the first case in that state.

"He developed headaches and went to the emergency room withfever and continued headaches," the New Jersey agency said,adding that he was receiving anti-fungal medication at SouthJersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center in Vineland.

The widening outbreak has alarmed U.S. health officials andfocused attention on regulation of pharmaceutical compoundingcompanies such as the one that produced the drugs, the NewEngland Compounding Center Inc in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The federal Food and Drug Administration regulates only theingredients and not the compounders, which are subject to apatchwork of state oversight.

Three Democratic members of the U.S. House ofRepresentatives called on Tuesday for a congressional probe ofthe meningitis outbreak.

"This incident raises serious concerns about the scope ofthe practice of pharmacy compounding in the United States andthe current patchwork of federal and state laws," the DemocratsHenry Waxman, Frank Pallone and Diana DeGette said in a letter.

Some of the thousands of people at risk of contractingmeningitis may have to wait anxiously for weeks because theincubation period of the disease is up to a month, healthexperts said.

Tennessee is the hardest hit state with six deaths and 39cases of meningitis, followed by Michigan with three deaths and25 cases, Virginia with one death and 24 cases and Maryland withone death and eight cases.

The other states with cases are Indiana (12), Florida (4),Minnesota (3), North Carolina (2), Ohio (1) and New Jersey (1).

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering thebrain and spinal cord. It is not contagious.

(Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Claudia Parsons)

((Greg.mccune@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: USA HEALTH/MENINGITIS