OCALA, Fla. - There are new questions in the meningitis outbreak that is being blamed for the death of a 70-year-old Marion County man. The doctor who treated the man now says he's not convinced the outbreak is to blame.
The patient received a spinal steroid shot from the Florida Pain Clinic on June 19. The steroid came from the same Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that's now at the center of the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak. He died in July, but health officials just discovered the death yesterday.
"We began looking for people who'd received the medications that were suspect in July and then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked us to back that date up to May 21, so this is a moving target," said Craig Ackerman, a spokesman for the Marion County Health Department.
Unaware of his death, health officials attempted to contact the 70-year-old several times. It wasn't until Tuesday that they discovered he had died in July.
The man's physician, Dr. Stephen Pyles, told Local 6 that he saw the man about two weeks after the injection and he appeared normal, but a few weeks later, while the man was mowing his lawn, he apparently suffered a stroke in his brain stem and died.
Once state health officials found out about his death on Tuesday, they reviewed the circumstances surrounding his stroke and felt strongly enough to connect it to the outbreak.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now has a list of criteria for conditions associated with the outbreak. Anyone who received a spinal shot with a steroid from the New England Compounding Center after May 21, 2012 and comes down with the conditions within four weeks will be considered part of the outbreak. The conditions include meningitis, a stroke in the brain stem, an epidural abscess or septic arthritis.
But Dr. Pyles said such broad criteria could affect a lot of people and stir up a lot of panic. He said a stroke in the brain stem is fairly common and that it does not appear his patient was ever tested for fungal meningitis. Dr. Pyles said even the man's wife was surprised when the link was made, but officials with the Department of Health say, sadly, a pattern is emerging and brain stem strokes are occurring in patients with the contaminated medication.
"It's of concern and that's why we are asking people if they have even mild symptoms they should see their health care professional," said Ackerman.
Health officials have been trying to reach out to anyone who got the contaminated medication. So far, they've contacted about 350 people in Marion County, including Doug Koehn, 78, one of Pyle's patients.
Local 6 spoke to Koehn, who has now gone through a series of tests to make sure he did not get meningitis.
"It's startling," said Koehn. "It's like saying a bomb blew up in your back yard."
Since the outbreak has grown, the pharmacy who made the steroids has now recalled all of its medication. Unlike bacterial and viral meningitis, fungal meningitis is not contagious. There have been five other cases reported in Ocala. All of those patients received their shot at Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala and are in the hospital recovering from fungal meningitis.
So far, this outbreak is being blamed for sickening 119 people across the country. 11 have died. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington called for a Congressional inquiry into compounding pharmacies.
Florida has set up a toll-free hotline for anyone with questions about the outbreak, which can be reached at 1-866-523-7339.
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