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The Tech Letter, Issue #002 -- New England Compounding Center and Fungal Meningitis
October 26, 2012
In this second issue of The Tech Letter, I will be talking about the New England Compounding Center and Fungal Meningitis. These two subjects have been in the news a lot lately and I wanted to shed some light on these topics.
What is Fungal Meningitis?
Fungal meningitis is a normally rare fungal infection that spreads through a person's blood and ends up in the spinal cord. As a result, this fungus can be extremely dangerous, especially to those in high-risk categories. People with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, young children, cancer patients and those with HIV or AIDS find themselves at a significantly higher risk when an outbreak occurs. Most people end up with fungal meningitis through Cryptococcus, which is a type of fungus that can cause the disease.
How is it Transmitted?
One thing that many people do not realize is that fungal meningitis cannot be passed between people, as it is not contagious. Instead, this fungus finds its way into the body and then fungal meningitis forms from the fungus once it reaches the bloodstream. The fungus then reaches the central nervous system, which is where it becomes dangerous.
Some people get fungal meningitis by taking medications that can have an impact on the immune system. For example, you will likely have to take medication after an organ transplant, but this medication hinders your immune system immensely. Once your body is unable to fight off the fungus once it enters your body, it could develop into fungal meningitis.
Many people get fungal meningitis after breathing in soil that has been contaminated with bird droppings. These bird droppings can provide a breeding ground for Cryptococcus. Blastomyces, which can also cause menengitis, is found in soil where organic matter has decayed. Once the soil is disturbed, the fungus is released and breathing it in can have some serious consequences.
There are a few situations that put you at greater risk of contracting fungal meningitis, such as living in certain areas of the world. The Midwestern United States, for example, has higher rates of fungal meningitis, as the birds and bats living in the area may carry the fungus in their droppings. In the southwestern United States, the soil is known to carry the fungus due to the decomposing matter found within it. In addition, premature babies and women in their third trimester of pregnancy are at a particularly high risk because of their compromised immune systems.
It can be difficult to differentiate fungal meningitis from a common cold or flu, so you will have to consider a few things if you feel like you are at risk. For starters, you will probably have a fever, a headache and might have some nausea when you have fungal meningitis. These things are normal when you get sick, but there are a few other symptoms to consider. A stiff neck is a particularly strong sign, since the fungus spreads through your spinal cord. If you have a stiff neck that is accompanied by these other symptoms, it is a good idea to visit a doctor. You might also find yourself being more sensitive to light and find that you have constant mood swings if you have been infected.
Visiting a Doctor
If you suspect that you might have fungal meningitis, the first step is to visit a doctor. The doctor will take a sample of spinal fluid and will test it for fungal meningitis. Keep in mind that coming up with a cause of the infection helps a great deal when treating it, since the treatment is dependent on which type of fungus is causing the infection.
New England Compounding Center
In the most recent cases of fungal meningitis at the NECC, health inspectors located dark green matter growing in a number of different vials. These vials were supposed to be sterile, but this matter was clearly growing there. This matter has since been linked to an outbreak of fungal meningitis along the eastern seaboard and in the midwest, as health inspectors tested 50 different vials from the NECC and all of them were contaminated with a fungus that could lead to fungal meningitis.
Many people who have received steroids produced by the NECC have been infected as a result. These people often needed steroid shots to alleviate back pain and were instead injected with a fungus that caused fungal meningitis. Since these individuals had the fungus shot directly into their backs, they had even less time until the infection reached a critical stage.
This current outbreak has left 25 people dead and an addition 338 people have found themselves seriously ill because of this negligence at the NECC. Even the sterilization equipment found at the NECC was contaminated, which likely furthered the issues that have arisen. The basic reason for these problems is that the NECC was not properly maintained and federal regulations were continually violated by the company. Many of these problems were visible, but nothing was done to improve the situation and,as a result, a number of innocent people have died.
The current fungal meningitis outbreak in the United States could have been prevented if some simple steps were taken. Once the contamination was found at the NECC, the entire place should have been shut down. In addition, the workers and administrators should have done a better job of creating a sterile environment, since the vials and equipment that they were using clearly did not do the job for which they were intended. Since the sterilization equipment failed, the administrators at the NECC should have had it replaced or notified their superiors in an attempt to close the building immediately.
In the future, places like the NECC need to be more responsible because people are trusting these locations with their lives. If you go into a pharmacy, you expect to receive treatment for your ailment and do not expect to have something much worse occur. The NECC has had its license revoked by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy and it has been stated that the NECC will never again be allowed to operate in the state. At the same time, however, other pharmacies and labs must take this as a warning that disaster can strike when equipment is not sterile and it can cost many people their lives.
Thanks for reading!
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