SAINT PAUL, Minn. - Approximately 750 Minnesotans have been exposed to a rare and deadly form of meningitis, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Twenty fiveMinnesotans have shown some symptoms of the infection and are being evaluated.
"There are no confirmed cases," said Ruth Lynfield, M.D., Minnesota State Epidemiologist "The certainly could change, but we will keep people appraised, if and when, we get a case."
Lynfield insisted that Minnesota is using a very "low threshold" of symptoms for further evaluations of potential victims.
The outbreak of fungal meningitis in six other states has resulted in 35 cases and five deaths. The source is contaminated Methylprednisone Acetate, mixed at the New England Compounding Center near Boston, Massachusettes. The Center has been closed while the investigation into the contamination continues.
The process of "mixed" or "compounded" drugs, unlike manufactured drugs, is not controlled by the Federal Drug Administration. Lynfield said that responsibility for monitoring mixed drug producers rests with the individual states.
Fungal meningitis is not contagious, according to Lynfield. "This is not transmissible person-to-person," said Lynfield. "If a person does develop meningitis in this particular outbreak, what we have seen is it is fungal and it is due to contaminated product causing the infection."
Lynfield said all 750 Minnesotans who were exposed to the infection by injection at one of the sites of the Minnesota Surgery Center or the Medical Advanced Pain Specialists (MAPS). Marsha Thiel, CEO of MAPS said that four of her clinic's patients have shown some symptoms and are being evaluated.
Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, nausea and fever. There can also be symptoms of stroke, including slurred speech, body numbness and difficulty in walking. Since patients involved already suffer from chronic pain, Lynfield pointed out that the symptoms may have nothing to do with the current meningitis outbreak. However, the state intends to err on the side of caution.
"If you are found to have meningitis with this, the treatment is an anti-fungal anti-biotic and it would require hospitalization, initially, because these are very severe, significant infections," Lynfield said.
The injections of the steroid are given in various places in the body, depending on the source of chronic pain. The ages and genders of those exposed to the contaminated steroid were not immediately available.