Years before New England Compounding Center (NECC) made headlines for mixing and distributing the injectable steroid linked to an outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis, the compounding pharmacy had settled a lawsuit alleging that it had mixed a tainted shot that caused a man’s death. In that case, an 83-year-old man died about a year and a half after receiving an injection made by NECC and becoming infected with bacterial meningitis. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 in upstate New York, and was settled before the case went to trial.
Meningitis is a life threatening infection caused by the inflammation of the membrane surrounding the spinal cord or brain. Bacterial meningitis is more common and can be spread from person to person. Fungal meningitis is not contagious but is extremely rare and can be difficult to detect and treat.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began investigating cases of fungal meningitis in Tennessee. All patients who became ill had received a steroid shot commonly used to treat back pain.
The shots were traced back to three lots – or nearly 18,000 vials – of the steroid, which were mixed at NECC. Investigators learned that the contaminated steroid had been distributed to 23 states, and that as many as 13,000 people may have been exposed to the fungus.
The number of causalities is climbing daily. To date, 14 people have died and more than 170 have become ill in 11 states. Over the weekend, NECC recalled all products in circulation – including the tainted steroids – and shut down all operations.