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Florida Reports First Death in Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

Florida has registered its first fatality from the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated back-pain injections, the Department of Health announced Tuesday night. DOH also raised the case count in the state to six, all in Marion County.

The death actually occurred in July, DOH said, before the discovery that certain lots of steroids from New England Compounding Center were contaminated.

The unidentified 70-year-old man who died had been treated at the Florida Pain Clinic in Ocala, said DOH spokeswoman Ashley Carr.  The other cases that have been identified so far were patients at Marion Pain Management Center, also in Ocala.

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday morning that DOH had contacted more than half of the 1,185 patients who were exposed to the tainted steroids at one of six clinics in the state where the drugs were used. 

In addition to Marion Pain Management Center and Florida Pain Clinic, the drugs were given at:

  • Orlando Center for Outpatient Surgery.
  • Pain Center of West Florida in Pensacola.
  • Surgery Center of Ocala.
  • Surgical Park Center in Miami.

DOH says five patients who contracted the rare meningitis from Marion Pain Management Center have survived: three men in their 80s, a 78-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman. Their names were not released.
The agency has set up a toll-free line to answer questions about the outbreak: 866-523-7339. Gov. Scott mistakenly gave out the wrong number on Tuesday morning, off by one digit, and it connected to an adult-entertainment line.

The New England Compounding Center drugs suspected of causing the outbreak were in three lots: 05212012@68, 06292012@26 and 08102012@51. The company has recalled all its products, however, at the suggestion of the Food and Drug Administration.

Health officials stressed that the type of meningitis occurring in the outbreak is not contagious. It appears to be causing illness in only a small fraction of those exposed.

Tuesday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page for the outbreaklisted 119 cases in 10 states, with 11 deaths. 

--Health News Florida, journalism for a healthy state, is a service of WUSF Public Media. Question? Comment? Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 813-974-8629 or 727-410-3266, or by e-mail at cgentry@wusf.org.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, Gentry worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel. She was a Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow in 1994-95 and earned an Master's in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996. She directed a journalism fellowship program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years.Gentry created Health News Florida, an independent non-profit health journalism publication, in 2006, and served as editor until September, 2014, when she became a special correspondent. She and Health News Florida joined WUSF in 2012.