The number of patients who developed fungal meningitis continued to climb Thursday, and for the first time in weeks the state is discussing the outbreak and notes the one thing it could have done better.
By next week, research shows, 99 percent of patients who are at risk of contracting the life-threatening form of meningitis should be out of the woods.
As the outbreak winds down, one of the state's top medical experts highlighted the lessons learned.
"I think medicine is full of mystery," said Dr. David Reagan, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health. "They call it the practice of medicine for a good reason."
Reagan helps lead the team of more than 100 people continuing to track the fungal meningitis outbreak.
"Our folks have been working very, very hard to characterize it fully, to inform the patients and to try to make sure that we can anticipate the next step," Reagan said. "What can we learn from this that allows us to do a better job."
The outbreak - sparked by tainted drugs from a Massachusetts pharmacy - has sickened 75 people and killed 11 in Tennessee after the drugs wound up at three pain clinics in the state.
Initially, the state did not want clinic staffs to mention meningitis in patient follow-ups, and Reagan admitted Thursday that wasn't the best plan.
"We have really thought about that a lot," he said. "We wanted it to be a broad question, and I still think that was the most appropriate type of question. But maybe the context around which that question was presented was what I would change."
Still, the state's early action and communication likely saved lives. And that seems the goal for the future.
"We're always just keeping our eyes open and our ears open," Reagan said.
State health leaders will re-examine rules for compound pharmacies in Tennessee, hoping to make the best of a terrible situation.
"These are opportunities that you hate to waste to ask yourself, 'Can we do this better?' And yes, I think there are some practical things that can be done to try to help that," Reagan said.
The state will check out best practices in other states as a similar conversation unfolds at the Food and Drug Administration.
Interestingly, the government first launched the FDA after a deadly outbreak in the 1930s.
Throughout history, health crises seem to influence policy changes. Now, plenty of people seem to believe this one, which was first felt here in Tennessee, will do the same.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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