Michael Omidi discusses how a patient was recently diagnosed with spinal meningitis 106 days after receiving an epidural steroid injection and how there may be many cases still to be reported.
The meningitis scare has dissipated considerably within the past few weeks, and has, sadly, largely been replaced by the flu scare. Unfortunately, even though we would certainly like to breathe a little easier about this awful disease, it was recently reported that a victim was diagnosed as having spinal meningitis 106 days after having the contaminated epidural steroid injection that caused all of the illnesses and deaths.
The Tennessee patient had received an injection at the end of September, only to be diagnosed with meningitis and an injection site infection in mid December. It is thought that the vast majority of people who have been infected with the tainted drug have already been identified and treated, but the gestation period for fungal meningitis is quite long—typically several weeks but occasionally longer. This new patient’s diagnosis has reminded the medical community that while there are still people out there who have been exposed to the steroid, there may still be outbreaks and possibly fatalities.
The epidural steroid injections were intended to relieve severe chronic back and neck pain. These injections are meant for patients with pain so severe that it renders them less able to perform daily tasks, but there are many health care providers that do not look kindly upon the procedure, which is very dangerous even when there is no threat of contamination. It is not uncommon for the person administering the injection to accidentally puncturing the spinal cord or causing nerve damage. It is estimated that approximately 50 percent of patients experience pain relief as a result of epidural steroid injections.
There may be many people who have infections that have gone unreported. In California there haven’t been any official fungal meningitis cases, but there were reports of people with very similar symptoms—headaches, back aches and difficulty standing or sitting for extended periods of time—who, for whatever reason, were never classified as being among the victims.
It is highly likely that the mental stress has contributed to the complications the patients may be suffering. Also, even though tests for meningitis may come up as being negative, there are other spinal infections that might cause lingering discomfort, like epidural abscesses and—more seriously—arachnoititis, which is a chronic condition that can only be managed and never entirely eliminated.
Many older patients who have developed infections are not eligible for the traditional treatments since they have very powerful side effects that delicate patients may not be able to tolerate.
As the weeks stretch into months, the only thing that the patients that have been exposed to the fungus can do is get medical consultations, wait and worry.
By Michael Omidi
Wilemon, Tom: Meningitis Outbreak: TN patient’s diagnosis came at 106 days The Tennessean 1/15/2013 http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130115/NEWS07/301150042/Meningitis-outbreak-TN-patient-s-diagnosis-came-106-days
Dance, Scott: In meningitis outbreak, fear lingers with few answers The Baltimore Sun 1/6/2013 http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-01-06/health/bs-hs-meningitis-fears-20130106_1_fungal-meningitis-meningitis-outbreak-infection-prevention-and-outbreak
Wilemon, Tom; Roche, Walter F: Patients say their cases ignored in meningitis outbreak USA Today 11/24/2012 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2012/11/24/meningitis-outbreak-cases-not-counted/1724379/