Fungal meningitis outbreak from tainted steroid slows

The rate of new cases in the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a tainted steroid product has slowed sharply since January 7, though the end of the outbreak could still be weeks away.

Between the start of the outbreak in mid-September and January 7, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 664 cases. Since that time, only 43 cases were reported, MedPage Today reports.

"We're still getting reports of a meningitis case or two but they are few and far between, which is good," Tom Chiller, the deputy director of the CDC's mycotic diseases branch, said, according to MedPage Today.

A total of 13,354 people were exposed to the fungal meningitis, which was caused by methylprednisolone acetate products tainted with Exserohilum rostratum. The outbreak caused 47 deaths.

While cases are on the decline, nobody knows when the last case will be reported because of the incubation period of disease caused by the fungus.

"I don't think we're done seeing cases, but I do think we're at the tail end of the curve," Chiller said, according to MedPage Today.

In the beginning of the outbreak, most of the cases were severe, acute meningitis, often accompanied with a stroke. The next set of cases presented with elevated numbers of meningitis cells in the cerebrospinal fluid. Most of the new cases being reported are focal injections at the steroid site, which can be difficult to pick up because patients already have pain.

"The issue we're struggling with (in) the clinical community is the idea that some patients have really no change in their baseline symptoms, (yet an MRI finds disease)," Chiller said, according to MedPage Today.

The meningitis epidemic has been linked to poor oversight and improper practices at the Massachusetts-based New England Compound Center, which made the tainted steroid, MedPage Today reports.