By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A newly published study concludes that swift action by state, federal and local regulators may have averted as many as 124 additional deaths in the 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak.
In a report issued today by officials of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers found that the intensity and occurrence of meningitis cases lessened considerably after the outbreak was made public on Oct. 4, 2012 and multiple regulatory measures were implemented.
"Thousands of public health officials at the federal, state and local levels, along with clinicians and administrative staff, worked over many months to respond to this unprecedented outbreak," the report states.
In addition to the deaths averted, the study found that without the intervention of regulators, an additional 153 patients would likely have been stricken with fungal meningitis or a stroke.
According to CDC and federal investigators 178 patients were stricken in the outbreak, while 76 died.
All the deaths and illnesses have been blamed on fungus infested methylprednisolone acetate which was shipped by the now defunct New England Compounding Center to 75 health providers in 23 states.
The researchers said the 2012 public health disaster was "the largest outbreak of fungal meningitis in the United States."
The study focused on three lots of the tainted steroid which were later found to be contaminated with fungus. A total of 17,675 vials were contained in the three lots. By reviewing NECC and other records, the researchers found that 3,150 of those vials were shipped but never administered before an Oct. 4 recall.
The study found that the death rate dropped from 28 percent to 5 percent after the public alarm was sounded on Oct. 4. The data did not include patients who suffered from injection site or joint infections caused by the steroids.
That drop was attributed not only to the recall and widespread public notice, but also to swifter and more aggressive intervention in suspected and confirmed cases of meningitis and stroke caused by meningitis.
"Aggressive public health action resulted in a substantially reduced estimated number of persons affected by this outbreak and improved survival of affected patients," the study states.
While acknowledging that its estimates could either overestimate or underestimate the potential additional victims, the researcher concluded that absent intervention the outcome "could have been far worse."
Reach Walter Roche at firstname.lastname@example.org