Fungus Confirmed as FDA Draws Meningitis Link to Pharmacy

A government laboratory drew a more direct link to the U.S. meningitis outbreak and a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy, identifying a fungus in shipments of injectable steroids that originated at the company’s facilities.

Scientists confirmed contamination by the fungus Exserohilum rostratum in one of three lots of a pain-killing medicine mixed by New England Compounding Center, the Food and Drug Administration said today in a statement. Health regulators estimate that about 14,000 people received shots of the steroid, called methylprednisolone acetate.

The tainted drug, typically injected into the spinal cavity to relieve neck and back pain, has been tied to 257 infections in 16 states, including 20 deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an updated tally today. The death toll increased one from yesterday.

“NECC is earnestly focused on determining, along with these agencies, the cause of contamination in vials of this product -- and to rapidly and professionally carry out a recall to remove all NECC products from circulation,” the Framingham, Massachusetts-based pharmacy said in a statement today.

The Justice Department said this week it’s investigating the company, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee is examining the causes of the meningitis outbreak.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. About 97 percent of the exposed patients have been informed of the contamination, the government said. Tests continue on other products from the pharmacy, the FDA said.

New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc., which used the name New England Compounding Center, suspended operations this month and recalled 17,676 doses of the drug after reports of the fungal meningitis infections. The steroid was shipped to 75 hospitals and clinics in 23 states.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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