News24

US tainted drug death toll rises to 14

2012-10-11 22:27

Chicago - The death toll from a deadly meningitis outbreak in the United States blamed on a tainted drug rose to 14 Thursday as the number of cased jumped to 170 in 11 states, health officials said.

Investigators say as many as 13 000 people in 23 states may have received contaminated doses of the steroid, which is typically injected into the spine to treat back pain.

The outbreak has led to calls for tighter regulation of the loosely controlled pharmaceutical compounding industry.

Critics said drug manufacturers have found a way to sidestep costly and strict oversight by classifying themselves as pharmacies, which are given freer rein to mix drug compounds for patients.

Among the hardest hit states were Tennessee with 49 cases and six deaths, Michigan with 39 cases and three deaths and Virginia with 30 cases and one death, according to the latest update from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Idaho reported its first case on Wednesday.

The rare fungal infection - which inflames the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord - often goes undetected until it is too late because its flu-like symptoms can be mild at first. But meningitis is not contagious in this form.

Treatment requires a hospital stay and intravenous anti-fungal medications.

US health officials launched an investigation after the first case was discovered in September and discovered fungal contaminants in steroids produced by the New England Compounding Centre.

The Massachusetts-based company subsequently issued a voluntary recall of all of its products and shut down all operations.

A second manufacturing pharmacy owned by the same people, Ameridose and its distributor Alanaus, temporarily suspended operations on Wednesday but did not recall any products.

Massachusetts health officials said there is "no evidence to suggest that there is direct concern for compromised product manufactured or compounded by Ameridose" but that the suspension will allow for a thorough investigation.