MUSC neurosurgeon offers advice after meningitis outbreak

Intervene M.D. in Mount Pleasant (Rebecca Lamb/WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the death toll from the nationwide Fungal Meningitis outbreak is now up to 8, with the latest death reported in Tennessee Monday.{}

More than 100 have fallen ill from the disease.{}{}

However, South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control says no meningitis cases have yet been reported in South Carolina.{}{}

The outbreak is believed to be caused by a specialty compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. Officials say steroid shots, usually used to ease back pain, were contaminated with the fungal strain of meningitis. The syringes with the contaminated steroids were reportedly sent to clinics in 23 different states, including Intervene M.D. in Mount Pleasant.{}

A statement from Intervene M.D. issued late Friday said about 177 of the 189 patients who were possibly injected with the tainted medication have been notified.{}

You can read the full statement here.

Dr. Bruce Frankel, a neurosurgeon and Director of the Multi-specialty Spine Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, says Meningitis is an infection of the central nervous system. He says this strain is not generally contagious, like the bacterial strain normally heard about on college campuses and in military barracks, where close living quarters make the bacteria easily spread. He says many health facilities don't get their medications from compounding pharmacies like the one in Massachusetts.{}

"The Spine Center here at MUSC and many other hospitals in South Carolina get it directly from the manufacturers themselves and not compounding pharmacies," Frankel explained. "We don't use intermediary pharmacies like the one that was responsible for this outbreak."{}

Frankel also urges all patients to be proactive about their health, by asking questions about their treatment options, where the medications are coming from and the possible side effects of treatments like this.{}{}

"It might be a good practice to ask your doctor where the particular medicine is coming from," he said. "Is it fresh vial or multi-use? Also ask, 'what are the potential side effects that I might have from this treatment?'"{}

The symptoms of this fungal strain of meningitis are similar to the bacterial strain. They include headache, stiff neck, sudden high fever, chills and confusion. Frankel said the symptoms can come on rapidly and without warning, and he urges anyone with the symptoms to seek immediate medical treatment.{}{}

InterveneMD released the following statement Monday:

Today the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has notified us that we should contact all patients who received injections using this medication after May 21, 2012, using any of the three recalled lots of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate (80mg/ml) produced by New England Compounding Pharmacy (NECC.) We are in the process of contacting these patients. We are advising them of the signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis and making ourselves completely available to answer all patient questions.

Additionally NECC had one other medication, betamethasone steroid, which was in use at our practice, which we voluntarily removed from use. We replaced medications from NECC for epidural pain relief with medications from a different manufacturer. We do not have any medications from NECC in our supply.

We initially were notified on Wednesday, September 26th by the manufacturer of the medicines that there was a voluntary urgent recall of suspect medicines from three lots of methylprednisolone. We immediately removed all vials of the medication from use and returned them to the manufacturer.

On Monday, October 1st the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) confirmed this with us and in cooperation with them we immediately began notifying our patients who may have received recalled medications.

Each person has been asked to seek immediate emergency treatment if they have any symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this illness takes from one week to one month following exposure to develop. In the October 8 update to InterveneMD, the CDC wrote, "all infections detected as of October 8 have occurred after injections with methylprednisolone acetate products from the 3 recalled lots. At this time, there is no evidence of infection related to other NECC products. As of October 8, no infections resulting from injection into a peripheral joint space have been reported."

It is a relief that none our our patients are showing any signs or symptoms of meningitis. Five patients -- at our urging -- have gone to the emergency room for further examination. At this time, none are known to have meningitis.

We have been and continue to be available to speak with our patients. We invite them to phone us with any questions, issues or anxiety. We are providing medical counseling and following all CDC recommendations.

We urge anyone who has recently had epidural treatment for back pain to contact their doctor. If you are our patient and have questions, we want you to call us.

Epidural steroid injections for the management of pain have been used for many years and have relieved pain in thousands. This treatment has allowed many individuals to experience an improved quality of life and be more productive.

We have been safely providing effective relief from back pain for patients with problems using treatment with epidural injection for 35 (collective) years.

InterveneMD comprised of Todd P. Joye, M.D. and Jeffrey W. Folk, M.D. is pleased to provide patient services in Mt. Pleasant in the Neuroscience Building at 1341 Old Georgetown Road and in North Charleston at 9231 Medical Plaza Drive.

For more information on the services offered by InterveneMD, please visit their website at: or call 843.216.4844.