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W.Va. clinic got steroid suspected in meningitis outbreak

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A West Virginia health clinic received a steroid medication suspected in an outbreak of a rare form of meningitis, the head of the state Bureau for Public Health said Thursday.

Dr. Marian Swinker didn't identify the clinic and said her office's epidemiology staff is monitoring the situation with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The steroid injections are used mostly for back pain.

"We understand that [the] CDC has contacted that clinic and that patients who may have received the medication in question will be contacted for follow-up,'' Swinker said.

West Virginia has no reported cases from the outbreak, Swinker said. So far, the outbreak has sickened at least 30 people in 23 states and caused five deaths. All received steroid injections.

"Our message to the public is that clinics have been notified and are in the process of contacting their patients,'' Swinker said. "If a patient hears from a clinic, they should follow the advice from the clinic physician about next steps.''

The Food and Drug Administration identified the maker of the steroid as New England Compounding Center, a specialty pharmacy in Framingham, Mass. Last week, the company issued a recall of three lots of the steroid -- methylprednisolone acetate. In a statement, the company said it had voluntarily suspended operations and was working with regulators to identify the source of the infection.

Compounding pharmacies mix ingredients for customized medicines that generally aren't commercially available. They are regulated by states.

This type of meningitis is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold. Health officials suspect that it might have been in the steroid.

In all, 35 patients have been sickened, with three deaths in Tennessee and one each in Virginia and Maryland. Other cases have been reported in Indiana, Florida and North Carolina, CDC officials said.


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