As the number of victims of a deadly meningitis outbreak grows, the FDA and CDC have been scrambling to educate the public about the steroid shots that they believed to be the source. Now, the FDA has announced that indeed, the fungus from the shots is the same fungus that has appeared in hundreds of patients. Which means a serious investigation of the pharmacy which illegally distributed the shots is underway.
A lawsuit has already been filed against the officers of the New England Compounding Center (NECC), which distributed the steroid shots on a much larger scale than they’re legally supposed to. The steroids made it to health care facilities in at least two dozen states. But now, with 20 individuals dead and tens of thousands more potentially exposed to this disease, the lack of oversight and fairly lax laws that allowed this to happen are what’s under fire. Especially now that the proof is in the petri dish.
According to the FDA’s most recent update, the fungus is called Exserohilum rostratum. Usually found in grasses and other organic material, E. rostratum isn’t usually dangerous to humans. However, in this particular instance, it clearly is. How the fungus got into the unopened vials of the steroids in question has yet to be determined–but it does raise further questions about the safety of the distributor.
“Compounding pharmacies,” which blend drugs into combinations that aren’t usually available on the market, have previously flown under the radar of the FDA and CDC, because they provide a niche service. However, the steroid injections which have now been proven to be tainted with the fungus that is causing the meningitis outbreak, were available from plenty of other, more reputable providers of drugs.
Since the outbreak began last month, NECC has ceased operations and recalled every medication it produced or combined since January, which is an absolutely giant list. But with more cases turning up every day, it’s too little, too late.
The FDA has officially stated that about 97% of patients who received injections from the potentially tainted lots of steroids have been contacted, though anti-fungals for all 14,000 of them have yet to be recommende.
Image: CNN/ Minnesota Department of Health