Health officials say meningitis outbreak will worsen over the next few days

A deadly form of meningitis has sickened 26 people and killed four across five states, including Florida.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this meningitis is linked to contaminated steroids.

"There is no risk to anybody that did not have a lumbar epidural steroid injection," said Dr. John Dreyzehner, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health.

Tennessee has the the bulk of cases with 18, prompting two clinics there to voluntarily shut their doors, the CDC reports. There are two reported cases in Florida, one in North Carolina, three in Virginia and two in Maryland.

"This is a very, very unusual event. And let me stress and unusual event," Dreyzehner added.

Health officials estimate nearly 900 people, ranging in age from 40 to 80 years old, are at risk.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord and is commonly caused by bacteria or viruses.  However, fungus is believe to be behind this strain.

"It appears to be a particular mold known as aspergillus which is present in our environment.  We breath in spores every day and they typically don't make people sick," Dreyzehner said.

Meningitis symptoms include a fever, stiff neck, headache, drowsiness and in some cases slurred speech.  Symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, can take anywhere from days to a couple months to show--meaning more cases are likely.  In many cases, the symptoms can be subtle and difficult to diagnose.

According to Dreyzehner, methylprednisolone acetate, a drug injected into the back, is to blame for this outbreak. 

Food and Drug Administration Officials identified the manufacturer as New England Compounding Center located in Massachusetts.  The company has voluntarily recalled of three lots of the drug.

Anesthetic as another possible cause of infection, Dreyzehner said.




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