When a doctor gives a patient an injection, the patient expects the medication to be sterile, handled in a controlled way, and not be contaminated by a dangerous bacteria or fungus. Unfortunately, a seemingly sterile injection could have been tainted because of a manufacturing defect, improper handling, or intentionally refilled with something else.
Meningitis Outbreak from Tainted Steroids
A few years ago, there was a widespread meningitis outbreak that was confounding doctors. The illness was not responding to regular antibiotics and there was no evidence of a bacterial infection, the most common cause of meningitis. It turned out that tainted steroid injections had been contaminated with a fungus, causing fungal meningitis.
Epidural steroid injections are most often used for back pain. Steroids can reduce the inflammation around the spinal cord, reducing pressure and temporarily relieving the patient of pain. Steroidal treatment does not generally cure back pain but can make it much easier to live with back problems.
When a doctor found a culture of Aspergillus in a patient’s spinal fluid, an uncommon fungus inside the body, the doctor questioned what had happened before onset of meningitis. The patient had recently received a spinal steroid injection to treat back pain. The tainted injections were traced to a number of other patients who became ill after spinal injections and more who died. The case count ended up being more than 750 patients suffering meningitis or other infections and 64 deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a widespread drug recall for the steroid, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate. The pharmacy behind compounding the drug had recalled all products compounded and distributed from the affected facility. The FDA recalled all unexpired products still in circulation.
Meningitis Diagnosis and Treatment
Meningitis is a swelling of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. A bacterial, viral, or fungal infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord usually causes the swelling. Bacterial meningitis is the most common type and can be deadly. Viral meningitis is less severe than bacterial meningitis, but can still cause serious damage.
Fungal meningitis is much more rare. Fungal meningitis generally occurs when someone inhales fungal spores. However, fungus can also be transmitted to the meninges or spinal cord through injection of a tainted substance, such as a steroid injection which is contaminated with the fungus.
Signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis may include:
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
- Confusion or altered mental status
Diagnosing meningitis can be difficult when fungal meningitis is less common than other types of meningitis. It may also take time to develop, making it difficult to track down the source of the infection. A diagnosis is generally made after testing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for different types of suspected fungus. Treatment generally involves antifungal medication through an IV.
After a Tainted Injection
It may be difficult to identify the source of infection. The doctor or hospital may try and avoid any responsibility for administering a tainted injection. A medical malpractice claim may be necessary to get the doctor or hospital to be held accountable for their actions. Contact our experienced malpractice attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian. To discuss your malpractice injury with a member of our legal team, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today.
About the Author