Monday, January 9, 2017
Deadly Outbreak Surfaced In Tennessee
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
BOSTON, Mass. A federal health official testified today that the first word of a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak came from officials of the Tennessee Department of Health, who had learned of a very rare case at a local hospital.
Dr. Benjamin Park, an official of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the initial witness called in the case of Barry Cadden, who has been charged with 25 counts of second degree murder following a federal probe of the outbreak.
Park, the chief of CDC's division of infection control, said the call from Tennessee came in September of 2012 and it appeared to be a rare and unusual case of meningitis caused not by bacteria but a fungus.
He said that first report was very quickly followed by three other cases and five more after that.
"All the cases had the same type of infection. They all received injections at the same clinic" Park said. "That's when we knew there was something going on."
Park said that several possible scenarios were considered, including whether there was a problem at the Nashville clinic where all the victims has been injected with a spinal steroid, methylprednisolone acetate.
Eventually he testified they also learned that the spinal steroid injected into all the victims came from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass.
"We were concerned because the steroid was compounded," he added. "There have been outbreaks before from compounded drugs."
Though Park's testimony was cut short and will continue Tuesday, the initial case reported was at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. A Vanderbilt physician, April Pettit, has been credited with spotting that initial unsual case.
That patient, like the ones that followed had been injected with methylprednisolone acetate at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, also in Nashville.
He noted that sterile drugs produced by compounding are considered "high risk."
Park said the CDC asked Tennessee officials to go back to the clinic to get more information.
Meanwhile, as the case count mounted, Park said the CDC issued an alert to health care providers across the country to find out if the outbreak was more widespread.