Federal and state health officials are investigating an outbreak of a rare and deadly form of meningitis. Some details:
Q: How big is the outbreak?
A: At least 35 people have contracted fungal meningitis and five of them have died. All received steroid injections, a common treatment for back pain, in the past few months. Most of the cases are in Tennessee, the rest in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia.
Q: How were people infected?
A: The prime suspect is the steroid shots. Federal officials said that a fungus was found inside one sealed vial of the steroid and other vials also appeared to be contaminated.
Q: Where did the steroid come from?
A: A specialty pharmacy, New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., custom-made the steroid. The company has recalled nearly 17,700 vials. Shipments went to 75 clinics and other facilities in 23 states, but it isn't known how many vials may have been used. U.S. health officials urged doctors not to use any products from the company, which has shut down production.
Q: What is meningitis?
A: Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include a severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. Fungal meningitis is not contagious like the more common forms, bacterial and viral meningitis. It is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold.
CDC: Online: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/fungal.html