Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

If you have turned on the news at any time in the past few weeks, I’m sure you have heard stories about the fungal meningitis outbreak in the United States. The outbreak has been linked to five confirmed cases in Minnesota alone. So, what exactly is fungal meningitis and are you at risk?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Fungal meningitis occurs when the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord are infected with a fungus.” It is a very rare infection and can be life threatening; meningitis is normally caused by a bacteria or a virus instead of a fungus. In general, people with weak or compromised immune systems are at a much higher risk of contracting this form of meningitis.

Common symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea

Symptoms of the infection occurring from this outbreak have normally been showing up anywhere from one to four weeks after the steroid injection. However, there have been reports of symptoms appearing before and after that one to four week time period. This particular strain of fungal meningitis is progressing more gradually and slowly than other forms.

Are you at risk?

The current outbreak of fungal meningitis is the result of contaminated steroids that were sold to 23 clinics around the U.S. by the drug producer, New England Compounding Center. Almost everyone affected by the contaminated drug has received steroid injections into their spine area. It is suspected that about 14,000 people have been exposed to the steroid The map below outlines the states that have reported cases of this infection with the number of cases in each of those states (as of today, Oct. 15, 2012). Also, as of today, there have been 15 deaths nationwide, due to this fungal meningitis outbreak.

Different types of fungal meningitis (not related to this outbreak) can be contracted as well. Taking certain medications that weaken your immune system, inhaling soil heavily contaminated with bird or bat droppings or inhaling fungal spores that contain decaying organic matter can all cause the infection. These contaminated soils are common in the Midwest.

Treatment:

Treatment can last for months, depending on the strength of your immune system. The strong anti-fungal medications are normally given through an IV.

If you have not received a steroid injection with the contaminated drug, you are not at risk for contracting fungal meningitis linked to this outbreak. It is not contagious so it does not spread from person to person. The investigation is ongoing so if you have any concerns at all, contact your primary doctor.