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2,000 who might have received contaminated steroid shots sought

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 8:38 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials have tracked down 12,000 of the approximately 14,000 people who might have received contaminated steroid shots in the nation's growing meningitis outbreak,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Thursday that patients must keep watch of symptoms of the deadly infection for months.

“We know that we are not out of the woods yet,” Dr. J. Todd Weber of the CDC said as the death toll reached 14.

Of the 170 people sickened in the outbreak, all but one have a rare fungal form of meningitis after receiving suspect steroid shots for back pain, the CDC said. The other case is an ankle infection discovered in Michigan; steroid shots also can be given to treat aching knees, shoulders or other joints.

Fungus has been found in at least 50 vials of an injectable steroid medication made at a specialty compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts, investigators said. Health authorities haven't yet said how they believe the medication was contaminated, but they have ruled out other suspects — other products used in administering the shots. The focus continues to be on New England Compounding Center Massachusetts.

Compounding pharmacies traditionally supply products that aren't commercially available, unlike the steroid at issue in the outbreak.

Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said the company apparently violated state law governing such pharmacies, which aren't permitted to do large-scale production.

Instead, compounding pharmacies must produce medication for patient-specific prescriptions, she said.

“This organization chose to apparently violate the licensing requirements under which they were allowed to operate,” Biondolillo said.

Company officials weren't immediately available to comment Thursday but earlier this week declined comment, except to say they are cooperating with the investigation.

On Thursday, Idaho became the 11th state to report at least one illness. The others are Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Last month, after illnesses began coming to light, the company recalled three lots of the steroid medicine — known as preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate — made in May, June and August.

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