Though the infection rate has continued to rise slowly nationwide, the fungal meningitis outbreak that has been creeping through the U.S. has currently only infected one Bibb County resident. The District Public Information Officer for the North Central Health District, Jennifer Jones, said that to the knowledge of the health department, no cases have been reported since a 66-year-old woman exhibited symptoms in the weeks before Halloween.
As of Monday, The New York Times reported that just over 400 people have been infected with fungal meningitis over the course of this outbreak. The disease has claimed the lives of 29 people nationwide. The case of the Bibb County woman made Georgia the 17th of 19 states affected by the outbreak.
The outbreak has been traced back to a pharmacy in Framingham, Mass. The New England Compounding Center issued a steroid contaminated with fungal meningitis to facilities across the United States. Fungal meningitis is not contagious; instead, it spread through injection, as people received the steroid as a treatment for back pain.
According to Jones, the Forsyth Street Ambulatory Surgery Center is currently the only facility in Georgia that received medication proven to have the fungal meningitis infection.
The New England Compounding Center has since recalled all of the products which might be contaminated with meningitis, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website. The CDC also reports that on Halloween, another Massachusetts pharmacy called Ameridose, LLC recalled its products as part of the ongoing investigation into the outbreak.
Jones said that around 180 patients were at risk for infection through the Forsyth Street center before the drug was recalled. She also said the center was prompt about calling all patients who had received potentially infected medication, alerting them to the risks and informing them what symptoms they should be looking out for. Fungal meningitis has a long incubation period, so symptoms can lie dormant for months before they become evident and the disease takes hold.
“It could be months before someone starts seeing symptoms,” Jones said. “Because of that, we’re not going to say we’re out of the woods and that this is the only case we’ll have. We hope so.”
If patients do not show symptoms for a certain number of months—as yet undetermined—Jones said, “We would then tell people, ‘Your chances are very likely that you’re never going to see any symptoms. If you were going to get sick, you would have gotten sick by now.’ But we’re not at that point yet.”
According to the CDC website, symptoms of fungal meningitis include “new or worsening headache,” “fever,” “slurred speech” and “increased pain, redness or swelling” in the place where the infected shot was administered. Only those who have reason to believe they were exposed to the disease through the infected medication should be concerned that they have contracted the disease. If symptoms occur and persist, contact your regular physician immediately.