Thursday, October 18th, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
Meningitis outbreak not in area
  No cases of the rare fungal meningitis sweeping the country have been reported locally, and it appears the tainted steroid causing illnesses and deaths wasn't distributed here.
However, area health officials warn the information they're receiving about the contaminated medication and the New England drug company that manufactured it continues to change.
"Keep in mind it's an evolving outbreak that's changing rapidly," Deb Scheer, the epidemiologist for Mercer, Auglaize and Van Wert counties, said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have identified 64 facilities in Ohio that purchased the contaminated steroid. The closest to the Grand Lake area is the Eye Surgery Center of Western Ohio in Lima. Patients are being notified.
Scheer said it's possible area residents were injected with the contaminated product while seeking back and joint treatments at facilities out of the area.
The steroid medication is a widely distributed drug mainly used to treat back pain via spinal injection. However, officials aren't ruling out cases involving joint injections to the knee, shoulder or ankle.  
The FDA this week warned that another type of steroid and a solution used during heart surgery - also made by the New England Compounding Company - are now suspect. Production of all suspected drugs was ceased Oct. 3.
Fungal meningitis is caused by fungi that are common in the environment but rarely cause meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain. Test results, so far, show infections with three kinds of fungus, most of them a form of black mold.
The rare form of meningitis can't be spread from person to person. Symptoms typically arise one to four weeks after injection and may include severe headaches, fever, nausea, difficulty with balance and slurred speech.
As of late Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health reported nine cases of the illness in the state. Five cases were reported in Marion County, and one case each in Crawford, Hamilton, Morrow and Warren counties. No one in Ohio has died.
Across the U.S., 247 people have gotten sick in 15 states; 19 are dead, according to the most recent numbers from the CDC.
Scheer, who is based at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, said she's fielded numerous phone calls from concerned residents since the outbreak began last month. In some cases, she is referring callers to their health care providers.   Anesthesiologist Dr. Seeta Annam, who specializes in pain management at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, confirmed the hospital has not distributed any of the tainted steroid medication.
"The pharmacy at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital does not purchase any medication from this company," he said in a press release. "All medications used in epidurals done here come in single dose vials that have been purchased directly from the manufacturing pharmaceutical company."
Scheer said she continues to provide updates on the outbreak to area doctors and the three hospitals in her jurisdiction. All are required to report suspected cases, she said.
With updates on the issue sometimes arriving hourly, she's pleased with the way state and federal officials are handling the situation.
"I think they're doing a great job keeping us and the public informed," she said.
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