2nd Marion County patient dead; meningitis outbreak continues
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 1:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 1:28 p.m.
The state on Thursday said a second Marion County patient has died as a result of fungal meningitis contracted from shots of tainted pain medication.
The latest fatality was an 83-year-old man who had been injected with the contaminated steroid at the Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala, Florida State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong said during a press conference.
Armstrong would not say when the 83-year-old man had been injected. But he was being treated at Ocala Regional Medical Center when he died, according to Ocala Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Arthur Osberg. Ocala Regional is one of OHS' two hospitals.
In addition to that death, the state has increased from six to seven the number of Marion County patients in the meningitis case count.
The newest patient is a 48-year-old man. The seven patients include the two fatalities.
Overall, the fungal meningitis outbreak has affected 170 patients and caused 14 deaths in 11 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
All of Florida's cases are in Marion County, where three pain clinics — the Florida Pain Clinic, the Surgery Center of Ocala and the Marion Pain Management Center — received tainted lots of the medication.
Armstrong said 775 doses of the suspect steroid had been administered to Florida patients through their spine areas. All seven of the state's fungal meningitis cases have come from this set of patients.
The steroid also was injected into the joints of another 306 Florida patients. They have not reported symptoms related to fungal meningitis.
Armstrong said 95 percent of Florida patients who received contaminated doses have been successfully contacted and warned of the recall.
Armstrong described the second death as a "terrible tragedy" and said he was saddened to share the news of two Florida deaths. He said it was not unexpected for the number of Florida cases to rise, but could not predict how many more people would show symptoms of the rare fungal meningitis.
"At this time it is difficult to see where this is going (with) more cases and deaths," Armstrong said.
The first fatality, a 70-year-old man, was announced late Tuesday. He was injected with a lot of the suspect steroid at the Florida Pain Clinic, whose owner disputes the link to the meningitis outbreak.
The state has released neither man's name nor any other identifying information. But it did say that both were injected with one of the contaminated lots of New England Compounding Center (NECC) methylprednisolone acetate, which is used for epidural back injections.
NECC sent the tainted lots to eight Florida clinics, including the three in Marion County. In all, contaminated lots were sent to 76 clinics in 23 states, and up to 14,000 patients might be at risk of contracting meningitis.
"The Department is working closely with the Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Division in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to ensure that visitors and residents in Florida are safe," Armstrong said in a news release issued earlier Thursday.
Although there is treatment for fungal meningitis, Armstrong said the disease was difficult to treat and the medicines "carry more significant side effects" than those experienced with treatment of the more common bacterial meningitis. He said it can induce injury to the kidney and liver.
In the death of the 70-year-old man, Dr. Stephen Pyles acknowledges the patient died in July about two weeks after receiving an injection at his Florida Pain Clinic.
But Pyles said the man had other health problems. Also, the doctor said no definitive fungal culture test was conducted after the man's death.
"And I saw this patient two weeks after the injection and he was doing fine," Pyles said.
Regardless, the state continues to stand by its announcement.
Efforts to reach officials at the Marion Pain Management Center — which is where the 83-year-old patient received his injection — were unsuccessful.
Munroe Regional Medical Center, Ocala Regional Medical Center and West Marion Community Hospital have been checking out patients who present with possible meningitis symptoms. Combined, the three facilities have seen more than 100 patients who have been injected with the tainted steroid. Nearly 50 were admitted into one of the three hospitals for further observation.
Shands at the University of Florida has one such patient. As is the case with all the other hospitals, the patients did not receive tainted shots there; rather, they went to the hospitals for appropriate tests, treatment and observation.
Armstrong said all NECC products, in addition to the three tainted steroid lots, have been removed from Florida health facilities.
As the patient count continued to increase on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate's health oversight committee, formally requested a criminal probe.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the senator wrote: "Regardless of any possible ambiguity regarding regulatory authority, this company seems to have committed misconduct, potentially involving misrepresentation, fraud, and other criminality."
Contact Fred Hiers at 397-5914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.