Reporting Edgar Linares
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed two new cases of fungal meningitis in the state, bringing the total to seven.
But now state health officials are not sure how many people were exposed to tainted drugs from the New England Compounding Center, especially since the FDA has expanded their search to include all NECC inject-able drugs.
“We got a partial list, but we’re not sure of its accuracy,” said Richard Danila, Minnesota’s deputy state epidemiologist. “We got it from the CDC, which got it from FDA, which apparently got it from NECC using their billing records and shipping records.”
Last week, only a handful of Minnesota clinics were linked to the tainted steroid outbreak, saying more than 900 people received methylprednisolone. Now, the list has more than 125 clinics and hospitals, and an unknown number of patients exposed.
Health officials are also not sure how many NECC products were received and distributed by hospitals and clinics. Some clinics may have received enough for one patient and others enough for 900.
“It’s an uncertain, and unsettling situation if you’re a clinic that received an NECC product,” Danila said. “First you thought everything was good because you hadn’t received the known contaminated product, and now you’re finding out, in fact, you do have to notify your patients.”
One health group contacted by the FDA was Allina Hospitals and Clinics.
“Through an abundance of caution and some concerns the FDA has, they have asked providers to look at any and all drugs that may have been acquired by the NECC organization,” said Allina spokesman David Kanihan.
Kanihan says they know of 12 metro clinics that gave 53 patients products from NECC.
“In addition to that, there’s also a larger number associated with our hospitals,” Kanihan said. “We have 11 hospitals in the Allina system in total. We’ve identified six hospitals that have also used substances from NECC going back to May. And that affects about 574 patients.”
Another Minnesota health group dealing with the FDA request is HealthPartners Clinics and Regions Hospital. They issued this statement:
“HealthPartners Clinics and Regions Hospital do not routinely purchase medications from NECC. We are following guidance from the FDA to notify affected patients. This currently involves one Regions Hospital patient. We previously said that we do not use and have not used the steroid that was the initial product in question.”
Danila says another unsettling situation is that they’ve never dealt with this kind of outbreak before. He says no one really knows much about this fungus and it’s never caused meningitis before.
“Right now, there is a patient who went 41 days from the time they were injected until the time they showed symptoms of meningitis,” Danila said. “That’s the longest.”
Since they’ve never seen this kind of outbreak it’s difficult to predict what will happen next. There could be longer cases that show up said Danila. Now he’s not sure he can tell any patient they’re “out of woods”.
The outbreak has sickened more than 240 people in 14 states, and as of Wednesday 19 have died.