189 Ga. patients treated with steroids tied to deadly meningitis

7:33 PM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
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(File Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

ATLANTA -- No infections have been reported here yet, but 189 Georgia patients received steroid injections in Macon that may have been contaminated with a deadly fungal meningitis.

Thursday, it became apparent that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people who got the affected shots between July and September could be at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says so far 35 people in seven states have contracted fungal meningitis from routine steroid injections used to treat back pain. Five people have died.

Fungal meningitis is not contagious, the only people in danger are those who were treated with the contaminated drug.

The state Department of Public Health announced Friday that the Georgia patients were all treated at Forsyth Street Ambulatory Surgery Center near Macon. Health officials are working with that facility to contact affected patients.  Most have been contacted, and six reported symptoms that could be related to the meningitis, but the department said those symptoms were similiar to what they suffered before they recieved the contaminated drug. 

"We are not thinking it's highly likely that these are going to be individuals that will get sick, but we don't want to take any chances," said Patrick O'Neal, the Director of the Division of Health Protection.  "So if they've had any symptoms at all which could be in the spectrum you'd see with meningitis, we recommend that those individuals be evaluated by their physicians. "

Those symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache and fever. 

Georgia Public Heath Commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald said the Macon facility is the only one in the state that received the shipment of potentially tainted drugs from the Massachusetts pharmacy at the heart of a meningitis outbreak, New England Compounding Center.

"Some of these patients' symptoms were very mild in nature," Dr. Fitzgerald said in a letter to 11Alive Medical Correspondent Dr. Sujatha Reddy. "The difficulty in diagnosing fungal meningitis is its subtlety - a slow and undulating illness that may take 1 to 4 weeks following an injection to lead to a variety of symptoms, including fever, new or worsening headache, nausea, and new neurological deficit (consistent with deep brain stroke)."

For more on the meningitis outbreak, visit the CDC's website.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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