In the first of probably many legal challenges to come, one Minnesota woman has filed a lawsuit against the compounding pharmacy that is at the center of the meningitis outbreak ravaging the United States. The CDC says that 14,000 people are at risk for fungal meningitis infection; officials are still trying to get in touch with 2,000 of these people. Already, 170 people have been infected and 14 people have died.
The plaintiff filed the lawsuit in a Minnesota federal court on Thursday. She said that she had received a tainted steroid injection and now has symptoms consistent with meningitis. She is awaiting details from the test.
The infection is a bit tricky to diagnose because symptoms are generally mild and have appeared up to four weeks after the steroid injection. Confirmed cases of meningitis have had symptoms like slight weakness, slightly worse back pain, or a mild headache. The test to diagnose the disease requires a spinal tap, an invasive and painful procedure. But, without treatment, sufferers of fungal meningitis could die.
Fungus has been found in 50 vials of the steroid medication. In 10 of the cases, the fungus Exserohilum was confirmed in patients. In the first case, Aspergillus was found; it has only been found in that one case.
This is not the only legal ramification that the New England Compounding Center and its sister company, Ameridose, will likely face. Massachusetts officials have said that the compounding pharmacy may have broken state law. Compounding pharmacies are only intended to supply patient-intended prescriptions, meant to address specific needs, like removing an ingredient to which the patient may have an allergy or like putting the medication into liquid form for a patient that cannot swallow pills. But NECC, which has been in legal hot water before, may have been operating more like a drug manufacturer.
The NECC, on its end, has written in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration that it has complied with all regulations. The FDA says that it did not have the powers it needed to stop the pharmacy from manufacturing and distributing its tainted medication on a wide scale.
It does not appear that the NECC used any medication that was not federally approved.
The NECC and Ameridose closed earlier this month.
Currently, the CDC lists the case count with the following: Florida: 7 cases, 1 death; Idaho: 1 case; Indiana: 21 cases, 1 death; Maryland: 13 cases, 1 death; Michigan: 39 cases, 3 deaths; Minnesota: 3 cases; New Jersey: 2 cases; North Carolina: 2 cases; Ohio: 3 cases; Tennessee: 49 cases, 6 deaths; Virginia: 30 cases, 1 death.
If you suspect that you have meningitis symptoms, please alert your doctor immediately. Symptoms include: new or worsening headache, fever, light sensitivity, stiff neck, body weakness or numbness, slurred speech, and increased pain or redness at the injection site.
Fungal meningitis is not contagious between people; this form of the disease could only be contracted through the steroid injection.