Is the Meningitis outbreak contagious?by Kristen Hensley
Oct 10, 2012
THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Dr. Alfred Scott Lea of UTMB explains that meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused spontaneously by bacteria and viruses. The current “outbreak” is caused by fungi (mainly Aspergillus, but also Exserohilum) that are inoculated in and around the spinal cord during a procedure known as epidural steroid injections (spinal steroid injections) for back pain and inflammation and is not contagious. The medication thought to be responsible was specially formulated to eliminate the effects of preservatives from the steroid injected in and around the spinal canal/spinal cord.
There are potentially 13,000 exposed individuals throughout the United States. There have been 119 identified cases and 12 deaths associated with this outbreak as of Oct. 10. A person had to undergo the specific procedure (spinal epidural steroid injection) in order to have risk for this infection — this is not a contagious disease with person-to-person transmission. Spinal epidural steroid injections are given for back pain and inflammation, and this is not the same thing as epidural anesthesia or an epidural block given to women during delivery.
Involved medications are thought to have been used beginning May 21, 2012 and were distributed by the New England Compounding Center. To date, the majority of patients have had symptoms 1 to 4 weeks after the injection. All involved lots of medications have been recalled, and back pain centers are notifying individuals who are identified as potentially exposed.
To date, none of these medications have been used at UTMB, or in the greater Houston area. In Texas, there have been no identified cases to date, and the only known lots to have been used in the state were distributed to two back pain centers in Dallas County. Individuals concerned that they may have been exposed should contact their physician.
Individuals who may have experienced an exposure should watch for headache, fever, worsening back pain, pain or redness at the injection site, neck stiffness, sensitivity of eyes to light, and weakness or numbness of involved extremities. Some patients have presented with what appears to be a stroke. If these symptoms are occurring, report immediately to your physician. If a person is having symptoms, the diagnostic test is a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
Dr. Alfred Scott Lea is an associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.