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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Recent meningitis outbreak brings other concerns

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  • A recent outbreak of meningitis and stroke secondary to the injection of contaminated medications into the spinal canal of patients raises some very important issues.
    The medication, a type of prednisone, was contaminated with a fungus, apparently when it was prepared.
    The purpose of these injections is to decrease the inflammation present in the back due to arthritis, protruding discs or other causes. It is the inflammation that causes the pain and the medication is an anti-inflammatory steroid drug. This form of treatment is usually effective.
    But what makes this saga so scary is that it highlights the potential risks of contamination of any of the medications that we take. To make matters even more dire, we face the possible contamination of almost everything we ingest.
    Although some people are concerned that we have too much government intervention in our lives, here is an example of government intervention that is important in preventing contaminated products from reaching the unsuspecting consumer.
    To prevent such contamination, there are federal and state regulations concerning medications that must to be abided by before they are dispensed to patients. In this case, the medication came from a compounding pharmacy. A compounding pharmacy prepares or creates a specific medication that fulfils the need of a patient that is not present in a traditional available drug.
    However, there is now concern that there is not enough oversight over these compounding pharmacies, such as the one involved in the present situation. As a result, new legislation that includes stronger regulations has already been proposed.
    A system is already in place to detect if patients have been affected by contaminated products. The good news is that the system did work.
    In September, a patient who was given an epidural injection for back pain subsequently developed meningitis secondary to a fungal infection. This was reported to the Communicable Disease Center. Therefore, the center was well aware of this problem when a second case from another state was reported a week later. Then, more patients with meningitis or strokes due to fungal infections appeared, and it became obvious there was a serious problem.
    It didn’t take long to determine the location of the company where the contaminated products were produced, and steps were immediately taken to discontinue their use.
    However, although detection took place early, by that time thousands of injections were already done. As a result, many patients became infected and some died.
    What took place is just the tip of the iceberg. Similar situations are just one human error away. And, what is even more ominous is, if the contamination is done intentionally.
    Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children and president of the Genesis Fund, a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.
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