Are You at Risk of Meningitis? Here’s What You Should Know and What You Should Do
By Mark Kishel, M.D. FAAP
By now you’ve likely heard or read about the latest outbreak of fungal meningitis that has led to at least 19 deaths and more than 240 illnesses throughout the United States. In case you’re still not sure exactly what meningitis is, the ways it can be contracted and spread, as well as what symptoms to watch for, below is information I hope consumers will find useful:
Meningitis is a disease resulting in the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It typically results from a viral infection, although the cause may sometimes be bacterial, and in rare instances, fungal. The severity and treatment of meningitis differs according to the type of infection, which is why it is important to know the specific cause.
This latest outbreak is the rarely seen fungal meningitis, which is not contagious like the bacterial or viral forms. Fungal meningitis can develop after a fungus spreads through the bloodstream from somewhere else in the body, or as a result of the fungus being introduced directly into the central nervous system. In the cases being featured in the news, the affected patients received back or possibly joint injections with a steroid medication suspected to be contaminated by a fungus. The potentially contaminated medication was shipped around the country starting May 21, 2012, and recalled on Sept. 26, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The initial signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis are really no different from meningitis in general. These include fever, headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, and confusion According to the CDC, affected patients’ symptoms started one to four weeks after they received the shots. If you or someone you know received a lumbar epidural steroid injection after May 21, and are experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact your physician right away. In cases of emergency, go to your nearest emergency room. Fungal meningitis is treated with high-dose antifungal medications, usually given intravenously, in a hospital.
So far, no fungal meningitis-related illnesses or deaths have been reported in Georgia. Officials are still unsure as to how many facilities may have received shipments of the contaminated medication; however the CDC has information on where the suspected contaminated medication was shipped. If you are concerned, we encourage you to visit the CDC website (www.cdc.gov), and speak with your treating physician.
We are working to identify BCBSGa members hospitalized with or treated for fungal meningitis so they can be offered our care management program while they are still in the hospital or as they are returning home. We are also working with the treating physicians to be certain they are aware of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) treatment guidelines.
If you have additional questions, please call Customer Service at the number listed on the back of your health insurance ID card.
Mark Kishel, M.D.FAAP is the Managing Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia.