Medication linked to meningitis deaths may have reached 23 states -CDC

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct 4 (Reuters) - A steroid medication linked to the fungal meningitis deaths of at least five people may have been administered to patients in 23 states, the Centers for Disease Control said on Thursday.

The CDC said in a briefing that five people have died and 35 have been struck by fungal meningitis in six states. The outbreak first was reported in Tennessee, where two people died.

All the cases have so far been traced to three lots of Methylprednisolene Acetate from a pharmaceutical compounding plant in Massachusetts, according to the briefing.

The New England Compounding Center, Inc, a pharmacy in Framingham, Massachusetts, prepared the medication, which has been voluntarily recalled. A fungus linked to the steroid medication has been identified in specimens from five patients, according to the CDC's Dr. Benjamin Park.

The CDC said the fungal contamination was detected in the examination of one of the sealed vials taken at that company.

Fungal meningitis is rare and life threatening, but is not contagious from person to person. Meningitis can be passed to humans from steroid medications that weaken the immune system. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC web site.

(Reporting By Greg McCune; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)