Epidural patients worry about meningitis

Epidural patients worry about meningitis (Image 1)

Ron Barbe was at home with his family casually watching the news when a story about Saint Thomas Neurosurgery Outpatient Facility stopped him in his tracks.

The facility voluntarily closed down indefinitely after 11 patients fell ill with fungal meningitis.  Two have since died.

The patients had lumbar epidural steroid injections to ease severe pain between July 30 and September 20.

Barbe had two injections during that time period, one on September 9 and another on September 20.

“It was an, ‘Oh my God’ moment,” he said. “Right away we backed it up on the TV and watched it again.”

Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Health identified two additional cases of suspected fungal meningitis as part of a larger “outbreak” of cases.

The cases bring the total number of patients infected with what is believed to be Aspergillus meningitis to 13.

The form of fungal meningitis is not contagious and extremely rare. State health officials are still trying to pinpoint the exact source of the infection.

The Tennessee Department of Health also said the Specialty Surgery Center in Crossville has stopped performing lumbar epidural steroid injections as a result of the outbreak.

An estimated 100 to 200 patients at the clinic underwent the procedure prior to September 20, when the first meningitis case was reported.

The center was in the process of contacting those patients.

Barbe contacted his doctor and went to a Nashville emergency room to be examined after hearing about the outbreak.

“I am very concerned the doctor today in the emergency room said if you get any of these symptoms come back and we will do a spinal tap,” he said. “I am going to be nervous for a couple of weeks, it takes 28 days and we are at 12 days right now.”

Doctors use a spinal tap to test for fungal meningitis.

Symptoms of fungal meningitis are similar to other types of meningitis. They include a fever, stiff neck, headache, drowsiness and in some cases, slurred speech.

Teresa Meek said she planned to get a spinal tap to test for the infection. Meek was not a patient at the Saint Thomas Neurosurgery Outpatient Facility, but she had a lumbar epidural steroid injection at another clinic.

The clinic has not been identified as having a problem by health officials, but Meek fears as the outbreak grows she could be included with the other people impacted.

“Well it is meningitis, so it is not something to play with and they still have some in critical condition,” she said.

Meek said she was having symptoms that concerned her. She had a stiff neck, headaches and flu like symptoms.

Both Barbe and Meek were frustrated by what they called a lack of communication from health officials.

Meek wants to know the name of the recalled steroid to find out if it is the same one her doctor used on her. She has a previously scheduled appointment with her doctor on Wednesday.

Barbe said Saint Thomas Neurosurgery Outpatient Facility only called his home once.

“They had my cell number, my work number, as well as my wife’s number,” he said.

Saint Thomas Hospital is not involved with the meningitis outbreak.

Anyone with concerns should call the state hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

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