TOLEDO: The rare fungal meningitis outbreak that has killed seven people and sickened more than 60 across several states has now been found in Ohio. The four clinics known to have dispensed shots linked to the illness are in the central and southwestern parts of the state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Saturday that one case has been found in Ohio although it did not say where. The Ohio Health Department said a 65-year-old man had been sickened, but it would not release his name or hometown to protect his identity.
The man’s illness was likely caused by a tainted steroid injection from a specialty pharmacy New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts that has been linked to the outbreak in other states, the health department said.
Federal health officials fear thousands could have been exposed.
The CDC has said inspectors found at least one sealed vial contaminated at the Massachusetts company. It’s not yet clear how the fungus got into the steroid, which is commonly used to treat back pain.
The steroid has been recalled and officials have told health professionals not to use anything made by the pharmacy.
The health-care clinics in Ohio that used the recalled steroid injection are Ortho-Spine Rehab Center in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, Cincinnati Pain Management, Marion Pain Clinic, and BKC Pain Specialists, also in Marion.
Meningitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Doctors say that the fungal type is the hardest to treat and devastating to patients because it can cause strokes.
The health department said the clinics were working to contact patients who received the steroid injection, which is often used to treat back pain.
An official with Ortho-Spine Rehab Center said Friday that the clinic had used the drug for at least seven years because it was cheaper than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s version and was effective.
Over the past two decades, pain control has become a growth industry, bolstered by the worn-out knees and aching backs of baby boomers. Pain clinics began popping up around the country.
Starting in the 1990s, spinal injections for back pain, known as lumbar epidural steroid injections, skyrocketed. They have since leveled off, but the number remains high.
In 2011, 2.5 million Medicare recipients had the injections, as did an equal number of younger people, according to Dr. Ray Baker, president of the International Spine Intervention Society. Many people seek the injections in hopes of avoiding back surgery.
The injections combine a steroid and a numbing drug in an effort to soothe inflamed and irritated nerves.
Patients are told they may get weeks, months or even a year of relief.
The injections created a demand for steroids, including methylprednisolone acetate, the drug that New England Compounding was making.