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Clinics scramble in scare over meningitis

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 11:56 p.m.

Efforts to contact hundreds of Pennsylvania patients who got doses of a contaminated steroid moved quickly Friday and one clinic that used the medicine was deluged with hundreds of calls.

No cases of fungal meningitis were reported from a contaminated lot of steroids administered to patients at a South Hills clinic, health officials said.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Jim Lando, acting chief of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Allegheny County Health Department.

Contaminated medications administered spinally for back pain from the Massachusetts manufacturer are connected to an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed five people and made 47 ill in seven states. On Friday, Michigan became the seventh state to report illnesses, announcing four cases.

Authorities are trying to contact at least 350 people who received injections of the steroids, which were recalled, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“All of these people are being contacted directly,” said spokeswoman Cait Gillis.

South Hills Pain and Rehab Associates and Allegheny Pain Management in Altoona are the only clinics in the state that received contaminated lots of the steroids, according to the state Health Department.

A statement from South Hills Pain and Rehab, with offices in Jefferson Hills, Bethel Park, Monessen and Brentwood, said it administered the drug to “a number of our patients” and based on the guidance of the county health department, it is attempting to contact each person.“We have successfully reached most patients by phone. Those we are unable to reach will be sent a certified letter,” the statement read.

Company officials declined a request for an interview.

South Hills Pain and Rehab Associates has contacted about 200 patients, Lando said.

“It's an incredible amount of work for them, contacting people and answering hundreds of extra phone calls. But they are determined to contact everyone,” Lando said of the clinic.

No cases of fungal meningitis related to the steroids have been identified in Pennsylvania, officials said. The incubation period can be up to 28 days.

Pennsylvania is one of 23 states where medical facilities received shipments of methylprednisolone acetate made by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., a specialty pharmacy that the FDA ordered shut down. Professionals often use that steroid for treatment of back pain.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord with symptoms that include severe headaches, nausea, dizziness and fever. Fungal meningitis is not contagious but treatment is prolonged and requires hospitalization.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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