Health experts are bracing for more people to become sick with fungal meningitis in the coming days. Worse is that doctors are dealing with an incredibly rare illness that is complicated to treat.
What makes it tricky is doctors still don't know exactly with what they're dealing. Experts have identified one fungus at work in this deadly meningitis outbreak, but the health department said Friday it is likely there is more than one type of fungus involved.
That could make the treatment for patients even more complicated.
Nearly 50 people across the country are now infected with fungal meningitis after they received a spinal epidural steroid injection shipped from the now-closed New England Compounding Center, and health experts believe the steroid medicine from that Massachusetts company was tainted with a fungus.
Those who are still sick are being treated with an anti-fungal therapy called Voriconazole.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is not treating the meningitis patients, but he knows a lot about the medicine that is being given to help victims fight off this deadly disease.
Some might wonder why not give everyone who may be at risk the anti-fungal treatment ahead of time, as a preemptive strike against getting sick, but Schaffner said the problem is that treatment can take months and can cause serious side effects.
The state health department said, so far, the anti-fungal treatment has had varied results. Some patients are getting better, and one patient has even been released. Others are doing poorly, and five people, including three in Tennessee, have died.
Doctors said those who are treated early have the best shot at survival. And if there is more than one fungus involved, that may mean doctors have to give patients more than one treatment.
Another area of uncertainty for doctors is they still do not have a clear timeline on the incubation period. So far, patients who received those tainted spinal epidural injections have been showing symptoms within a 30-day window, but experts said Friday they can't say for sure if patients who have not yet shown symptoms are out of the woods after that time frame passes.
In all, 23 states received one of the three lots of voluntarily recalled injections. To see a list of all clinics which received shipments, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/hai/outbreaks/meningitis-facilities-map.html
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