Local health officials warn of meningitis outbreak - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local health officials warn of meningitis outbreak

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- The number of cases of a rare form of meningitis continue to pop up across Tennessee. Friday, the State Department of Health confirmed four new cases. That brings the total in Tennessee to 29. Three people have died.

Health investigators believe the source of the outbreak is a compounding center, which provided a steroid product to facilities in 23 states. That has people across the country on edge. We got answers from local health officials.

Health department officials say there aren't any known cases locally, but say residents, especially back pain sufferers, should be on alert.

"This type of meningitis is almost unheard of," Erlanger Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Jay Sizemore said.

The outbreak of this rare form of meningitis has local infectious disease specialists on the lookout for anyone with symptoms-- including fever, stiff neck, unsteadiness and worsening back pain. There's one point they want to stress.

"It does not spread from person to person, so there's no concern of it being contagious," Dr. Sizemore said.

But, news of the outbreak is spreading -- with word the steroids causing it were used in injections for back pain sufferers. The bad medicine comes from Massachusetts.

"They want to know if that was the drug used when they got their epidural," Spine Surgery Associates' Teresa Beasley said.

Spine Surgery Associates in Chattanooga has been swamped with calls from worried patients. "Fortunately for us and the patients, we do not use the particular drug at all," Beasley said.

They use a different type of steroid, and don't order from the New England Compounding Center, but word of increasing cases is impacting business anyway.  "We've had patients that have canceled their upcoming injection because even though they know we don't use it, they're still frightened enough," Beasley said.

"This upcoming week, we're seeing the cancellations," Spine Surgery Associates' Denise Trepagnier said.

"We are unaware that the batches that are implicated in this outbreak have been used in the area," Dr. Sizemore said.

So far, the tainted steroids were found in three Tennessee centers, but state officials are telling all Tennessee clinicians to stop using medicine from the Massachusetts manufacturer. "Our main role is to put information out there for medical providers and important information for the public," Hamilton County Health Department Epidemiologist Margaret Zylstra said.

In total, health officials warned that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of patients who got steroid back injections in 23 states could be at risk. Health department officials say if you have any of those symptoms or have received a back injection, you need to contact your physician to ask if you could be infected.

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