Officials with two South Jersey hospitals and a Vineland surgical center said Friday more than 170 patients received steroid back injections with a product whose manufacturer is linked to potentially deadly fungal meningitis.
None of the patients treated at those facilities with the steroid medication, which is used to help control pain, tested positive for fungal meningitis, officials said.
However, doctors at South Jersey Healthcare System hospitals in Vineland and Elmer and Premier Orthopedic Associates Surgical Center in Vineland are taking no chances: They are contacting all those patients and asking them to undergo tests if they believe they have any symptons linked to fungal meningitis.
Thomas Dwyer, the surgical center’s medical director, said only about seven of the estimated 106 patients who received the injections at his facility showed symptoms severe enough to warrant further testing, which includes blood work and a spinal tap. Dwyer said he has received only one final test result, which came back negative.
David Kaufman, head of infection control at South Jersey Healthcare System, said 37 patients received the steroid back injection at the company’s hospital in Vineland. The other 33 shots were administered at the Elmer facility and came from a batch of the medication not currently linked to any fungal meningitis problems, he said.
Officials with the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention said 47 cases of fungal meningitis allegedly linked to the product manufactured by the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center were confirmed in seven states, although patients in as many as 23 states are at risk. New Jersey’s Department of Health reported Friday there are no confirmed cases of the disease in the state.
Health officials set the number of deaths related to fungal meningitis, which is not contagious, at five.
State health officials on Friday identified South Jersey Healthcare System and the surgical center as two of six operations in New Jersey where patients were given injections with the steroid medication produced by New England Compounding Center.
“Health care facilities that received this medication have removed the product from inventory and are working to identify and notify all patients who might have received injections from the implicated lots,” state Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said in a statement. “As the investigation continues, the number of affected patients and facilities could expand, so any patient who has received an epidural steroid injection who has symptoms should reach out to their health-care provider.”
South Jersey Healthcare System Chief Medical Officer Steve Linn said concerned patients can call a special hotline at 856-641-6010 or 856-641-6011 and speak with medical staff to determine if testing for fungal meningitis is required. Those patients can set up testing appointments at the Vineland hospital, he said.
Patients can use the emergency room facilities, but setting up an appointment is the best way for hospital officials to keep track of what is happening, Linn said.
Dwyer, who also is chairman of the system’s surgical department, said the problem is one of manufacturing, and not of patient care.
South Jersey Healthcare System has used products manufactured by New England Compounding Center for about eight years, said Joseph Alessandrini, a system vice president whose duties include overseeing pharmacy operations.
“We’ve had no problems,” he said.
On Sept. 25, state health officials said New England Compounding Center recalled three batches — or lots — of its steroidal treatment.
“We immediately pulled the product from our shelves and did not use the product,” Linn said.
Federal and state health officials then asked the health care facilities earlier this week to be aware of any symptoms shown by patients who used the product, he said. Those officials then asked operators of those facilities to contact any patients who were administered those steroid back injections from July 30 through Sept. 25 of possible problems related to their treatments, he said.
Linn said most of the patients who received those shots are from Cumberland County and nearby counties.
Kaufman said treatment for fungal meningitis involves the potential for several weeks of intravenous injection of agents that will kill the fungus.
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