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Death Toll Rises in Meningitis Outbreak [UPDATE]

The number of deaths and infected patients continues to grow.

Courtesy of Creative Commons/Sanofi Pasteur
Courtesy of Creative Commons/Sanofi Pasteur

UPDATE |Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012: There have been 257 total cases reported, with 20 deaths and three peripheral joint infections i 16 states. For a full map of the outbreak, check out the CDC's website.

Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 12:42 PM PST: Fifteen new deaths have been linked to the meningitis outbreak Tuesday caused a steroid injection used to treat back pain.

Infections and deaths have hit fifteen states: Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Idaho and Ohio. There have been 231 cases fungal cases reported and two joint infections.

During a health inspection at the New England Compounding Center last Monday, officials found fungus particles in unopened vials of methylprednisone acetate, a steriod used to treat back pain. On Wednesday, the pharmacy voluntarily closed and recalled its products, which include other steroids and painkillers.

Ukiah Valley Medical Center, located in Northern California,  recieved one of these shipments, but no patients admitted to UVMC have exhibited meningitis-type symptoms as a result of receiving this steriod.However, the company continues to monitor the medication recall.

"The team of registered pharmacists at UVMC did not choose the product based on price." according to Heather Van Housen, UVMC's patient care executive, "The product was selected because it contains no preservatives or buffers that other pharmaceutical manufacturers off that may cause higher risk of infection or other complications."

Meningitis is the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. Unlike viral and bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis cannot be transferred from person to person. Symptoms of fungal meningitis include headache, fever, nausea, neck stiffness and sensitivity to light. The symptoms are typically felt one to four weeks following the steroid injection. If the fungus travels to small blood vessels, the patient may experience symptoms similar to a minor stroke's. 

Patients inflicted with fungal meningitis will be treated with high dosages of an intravenous anti-fungal medication. The treatment time is dependent on the type of fungus found and the condition of the immune system. Those who have issues with their immune systems may have to be treated for a longer period.

Patients who have received the injection on and after May 21 should see their physician if experience these symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC has also released a list of of 76 medical clinics that have administered the steroid injections.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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