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Meningitis Outbreak Claims 24 Lives, Sickens 328 as of October 25

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With the number of fungal meningitis cases growing, the longest amount of time for symptoms to be manifested is currently at 42 days. The number of deaths believed to have been caused by contaminated injections of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate, for back pain, now holds at 24. The New England Compounding Center (NECC) of Framingham, Massachusetts, blamed for the outbreak “will probably file for bankruptcy protection soon to try to stem the growing number of lawsuits against the firm…” according to an October 19 article in The Boston Globe by Todd Wallack. A bankruptcy filing “would block patients from filing new lawsuits” and, according to John T. Morrier, a bankruptcy attorney with the Casner & Edwards firm, “alleviate some of the pressure to respond to multiple suits in multiple jurisdictions.”

A bankruptcy filing, however, will not keep regulators or scientists from trying to determine how the steroid medications became contaminated, nor how best to stem the illnesses caused by the fungi, whether by Exserohilum rostratum (which has been found in unopened vials shipped by the NECC) or Aspergillus (which is believed to be responsible for only a limited number of the infections). Fungal meningitis is a subject on which not a great body of research exists, so scientists must delve into new territory.

At the same time, the NECC is facing at least 10 lawsuits in Federal and state courts across the nation. Lawsuits will most likely be filed by victims and their families against the clinics, healthcare facilities, administering physicians, and, of course, the supplier (NECC). There may be other potential defendants as well.

NECC will not be the only entity investigated; sister companies, Ameridose, LLC of Westborough, MA, and Alaunus Pharmaceutical also have agreed to shut down operations temporarily until November 5, to allow Federal authorities to inspect their facilities. (The Boston Globe, 10/19/12) 13 New cases heightened concern over the weekend in Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee and Virginia. The illnesses are not limited to meningitis, but may include cases of spinal osteomyelitis, bone infection and epidural abscesses.

A judge in New Hampshire has received a request from a New Hampshire patient’s lawyer to place a lien on the personal property of three NECC directors, and a hearing will be held November 6 in Middlesex Superior Court. Federal health officials estimate that 14,000 patients could have received the up to 17,700 injections shipped by the NECC.