5 deaths now tied to rare fungal meningitis possibly contracted from steroids prepared by Massachusetts pharmacy

Federal health officials said Thursday that they have identified more patients infected with fungal meningitis that may have been contracted from injectable steroids made by a Framingham pharmacy. Officials expanded a recall of the company’s drugs and urged doctors and hospitals to discard all products made by the New England Compounding Center.

As of Thursday afternoon, at least 35 patients in six states had contracted the rare and dangerous form of meningitis, and five had died, said officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration in a conference call with the media.


Dr. Benjamin Park, a medical officer at the CDC, said the number of infected patients is expected to grow, as the three lots of Methylprednisolone Acetate initially recalled by the company on Sept. 26 were distributed to 75 health care facilities in 23 states. In New England the states so far include Rhode Island and New Hampshire but not Massachusetts.

Ilisa Bernstein, director of the Office of Compliance in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA, said the agency detected under the mircroscope “a fungal contaminant’’ in a sealed vial of the drug found at the company’s offices.

“There is a possibility it could be elsewhere, not just in this product but in other products that they have made. We don’t know the scope of this but we do know there is a risk,’’ Park said.

The patients infected so far have gotten the injectable steroid for lower back pain. Patients who have received this type of injection since July 1 and have concerns or symptoms, such as fever and new or worsening headache, and nausea, should contact their doctor, officials said.

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