By Walter F. Roche Jr.
For Joan Peay of Nashville, Tenn., a victim of the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak, Christmas came a little early this year.
It was in mid-October in fact when Peay got back the results from a new test: there was no trace of fungal bacteria in her blood.
For Peay the news was especially good because she was one of a handful of known victims of the outbreak to suffer a relapse. A little over a year ago just about a year after she was first stricken Peay ended up in the hospital again with an even worse case of fungal meningitis.
"This last one almost killed me," Peay said
Federal health officials say they are aware of only about a half dozen victims of the outbreak who suffered relapses. The original outbreak killed 64 patients and sickened 751. The outbreak has been traced to thousands of vials of methylprednisolone acetate laced with a deadly fungus. The victims had been injected with the steroid in the spine, neck or joints.
After recovering from the second bout, Peay said she lived with the constant fear that traces of the fungal bacteria remained and could flair up hitting her yet another time.
"As September of 2014 grew closer, I became very concerned and nervous. I would wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about it and could not get back to sleep."
"I told one of my sons that I did not have the energy nor the desire to go through it again, so if it started to have someone put a pillow over my face and kill me instantly," she wrote, adding that because of her religious beliefs suicide was not an option.
That's why, she said she wanted to find a test that could detect with greater certainty whether even small traces of the fungus were still lurking in her body.
Peay said she learned of the new test which could do just that, developed by scientists at the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers University Medical School. A friend she had become acquainted with on a blog devoted to victims of the 2012 outbreak first told her about the new test that required only a blood sample.
At first they traded emails and later met in person, Peay recounted.
"I was positive I needed a better way of detecting the existence of fungus in my body and this new way was the answer," Peay wrote.
But after learning that she would be a good candidate Peay still had to convince her Nashville doctor to order the test so she could send a sample of her blood to the Rutgers group conducting the studies.
Peay said she encountered some initial reluctance from "the doctor who saved my life," but
eventually he agreed.
Peay said she has since learned that other victims of the outbreak have encountered similar resistance.
Peay said she had her blood sample shipped to Rutgers at a cost of $50, money gladly spent.
A few days later, she got a two- page letter telling her that the testing of her blood showed no traces of fungal bacteria.
The results of a research study on the new real time DNA testing method have been published in several reports with the latest in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. The tests showed, that unlike Peay, who is now free of fungal infection, several victims still had traces of an infection in tests conducted from Feb. 22, 2013 to Dec. 11 of last year.
The report states that "surprisingly" some 29 per cent of those samples tested showed remaining fungal infection.
For Peay, however, the news was all good.
"I don't know if I have the words to describe how relieved and happy I was when I received the good results," Peay wrote. "It made the world seem a whole lot brighter."