Health chief: Tainted drug not sent to area
Posted: October 6, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — The director of the Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) said it is not likely that the city and Frederick County face a threat from the recent outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed five people nationally.
As of Friday, 47 cases had been reported in seven states — including six in Virginia — as clinics scrambled to notify patients across the country that the steroid shots they received for back pain may have been contaminated with a fungus.
In a phone interview Friday morning, however, LFHD Director Dr. Charles Devine said the outbreak probably will not spread to the district, which includes Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.
“Certainly we’re watching out for folks who think they might be [infected], but none of the medicines currently implicated [in the outbreak] were distributed to any medical facilities within Lord Fairfax Health District,” he said. “We’re not expecting that anybody residing here will be affected.”
Fungal meningitis is an infection, with symptoms including severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever.
Bonnie Pitt, corporate director of pharmacy for Valley Health — which operates numerous medical facilities and physician practices in the region — said the organization has never ordered or used the tainted steroids from the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a specialty pharmacy in Framingham, Mass., that was the source of the contaminated steroids.
“We confirmed that within a couple hours of notification [of the outbreak],” Pitt said in a phone interview Friday, adding that other NECC products Valley Health uses have been separated from the general inventory until the federal Food and Drug Administration determines that those products are safe for use.
In Virginia, where one death has been reported from fungal meningitis, the outbreak has been primarily linked to the medical facilities Insight Imaging — Roanoke and New River Valley Surgery in Christiansburg.
More than 600 patients who received treatment at the Roanoke facility were notified that they could have contracted fungal meningitis, and fewer than 30 patients at Christiansburg were contacted because of possible infection, said Dr. David Trump, the state epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), in a conference call Friday.
The outbreak occurred when vials of injectable steroids contaminated by fungus were shipped to almost two dozen states earlier this year.
The FDA identified NECC as the steroid’s maker. Last week, the company issued a recall of three lots of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate, according to The Associated Press.
Trump said VDH is working closely with the two medical facilities to help spread the word to patients who received steroid injections that may have been infected.
“[Those facilities] have done a lot of work to identify patients, activate call centers and get the word out,” he said.
Officials are unsure how many cases of fungal meningitis Virginia could see.
“We expect the number to increase over the next couple of days,” Trump said.
While he could not discuss specifics about the patients with confirmed cases, Trump said the VDH is working to compile information from cases in Virginia and elsewhere.
“The common thread is that they had spinal injections of the steroid. As we get more information from Virginia, combined with information from other states, we can put together a better profile of who might be more at risk.”
The Associated Press contributed some information for this report.
— Contact Matt Armstrong email@example.com