A deadly form of fungal meningitis has now sickened 29 people in Tennessee, up from 25 on Thursday, John Dreyzehner, Tennessee’s commissioner of health, said in a news conference Friday morning.
The death toll remains unchanged at three.
The new cases raise the total to 39 people in six states who contracted the rare meningitis after receiving steroid injections for back pain.
Dreyzehner predicts the number of cases will only rise after it became apparent Thursday that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people who got the shots between July and September could be at risk.
The commissioner repeated three times that “the evidence indicates this is a product issue.” He said the clinics administering the shots had no way of knowing the injections were contaminated.
The Massachusetts pharmacy that supplied the steroid has recalled nearly 17,000 lots of the medical while federal officials have warned health care providers not to use any products from the New England Compounding Center.
The primary symptoms of meningitis include a severe and worsening headache, fever, stiff neck and back pain.
The incubation period is one to four weeks or seven to 28 days.
Anyone with concerns should call the state hotline at 1-800-222-1222.
Meningitis deaths in Tennessee
The three deaths in Tennessee include a 78-year-old Kentucky circuit court judge, a 55-year-old General Motors employee and a 56-year-old Brentwood woman.
According to The Tennessean, Judge Eddie Lovelace appears to have been the first patient to die of fungal meningitis when he passed away on September 17 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Lovelace received three rounds of the pain-relieving steroid injections in July and August, his wife told the paper.
Lovelace lived in Albany, Kentucky, about 130 miles northeast of Nashville, and had been a circuit court judge for two decades.
Less than two weeks after Lovelace’s death, Thomas Rybinski, of Smyrna, died at Vanderbilt. Rybinski worked at General Motors for more than 35 years. He died September 29.
The third to die was Diana Reed, of Brentwood.
Reed was a member of the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood and the wife of Wayne Reed, namesake of The Wayne Reed Christian Childcare Center on Lindsley Avenue in Nashville.
She passed away on Wednesday afternoon.
Fungal meningitis unrelated to other meningitis cases
The most recent meningitis deaths are unrelated to two deaths linked to meningitis last month in Tennessee.
On September 10, 18-year-old Jacob Nunley, a freshman at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, died of bacterial meningitis. Eighteen days later, on September 28, nine-year-old Sam McLeod, a student at West Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, died from a non-contagious form of the illness.