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St. Joseph's not associated with medicines under investigation

St. Joseph's Area Health Services wants the public to know that it does not purchase pharmaceuticals from the company involved in a recent national meningitis breakout.

The New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts produced an injectable steroid for the treatment of back pain. As of Monday, the number of people sickened by a nationwide meningitis outbreak has risen to more than 91 patients in nine states, with 7 deaths, health officials said.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) confirmed three cases of a rare fungal meningitis in the state linked to a steroid commonly used to ease back pain.

St. Joseph's Infection Control and Pharmacy Departments would like to reassure the public that St. Joseph's does not have a connection to the meningitis outbreak.

"We do not purchase pharmaceutical medicines from the New England Compounding Center," St. Joseph's Infection Control's Wendy Gullicksrud said and further instructs anyone to contact their primary care provider if they have any concerns or questions.

The meningitis in question is not transmissible from person to person. The MDH says symptoms of infection typically show up within one to four weeks of an injection for back pain, but could start sooner or develop later.

The MDH indicated the New England Compounding Center has been closed and that its products have been recalled or are being withheld from use.

"The only Minnesota health care providers known to have used the implicated drugs are Medical Advanced Pain Specialists (MAPS) in Edina, Fridley, Shakopee and Maple Grove, and the Minnesota Surgery Center (MSC) in Edina and Maple Grove," the MDH states. They are continuing to work closely with MAPS and MSC to contact patients who were treated with steroids from the Massachusetts firm.

The CDC is coordinating a multistate investigation of meningitis among patients who received epidural steroid injections (medication injected into the spine). Several of these patients have had strokes related to the meningitis.

In several patients, the meningitis was found to be caused by a fungus that is common in the environment but rarely causes meningitis. This form of meningitis is not contagious. The source of the fungus has not yet been identified, and the cause of infections in the other patients is still being assessed.

The CDC is currently investigating medications and products that are associated with this outbreak of meningitis. At this point, there is not enough evidence to determine the original source of the outbreak, however there is a link to an injectable steroid medication. The lots of medication that were given to patients have been recalled by the manufacturer.

Minnesota is among states implicated in the product as are California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and West Virginia.

While Minnesota has been implicated, it is important to know that St. Joseph's does notpurchase medicines from the New England Compounding Center, St. Joseph's Pharmacy Manager Scott Kosel states.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis refers to inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection frequently with a bacteria or virus, but meningitis can also be caused by less common pathogens such as fungi. The severity of illness and the treatment for meningitis differ depending on the cause. Thus, it is important to know the specific cause of meningitis.

Fungal meningitis occurs when the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord are infected with a fungus. Fungal meningitis can develop after a fungus spreads through the bloodstream from somewhere else in the body, as a result of the fungus being introduced directly into the central nervous system, or by direct extension from an infected body site next to the central nervous system.

Epidural injections are generally very safe procedures, and complications are rare. Fungal meningitis is an extremely rare cause of meningitis overall, including after epidural injections. The type of epidural medication given to patients affected by this outbreak is NOT the same type of medication as that given to women during childbirth.

Symptoms of fungal meningitis are similar to symptoms of other forms of meningitis, however they often appear more gradually and can be very mild at first. In addition to typical meningitis symptoms, like headache, fever, nausea and stiffness of the neck, people with fungal meningitis may also experience confusion, dizziness and discomfort from bright lights. Patients might just have one or two of these symptoms.