Top Health Stories of 2012: The Meningitis Outbreak

The Dr. Oz Show medical staff chose the top most innovative, interesting and influential health headlines of 2012. Each day until the new year, we’ll round up and revisit the major headlines that had a profound effect on science, medicine and your health over the last 12 months.

Headline #4: Tainted Spinal Shots Cause a National Meningitis Outbreak

Back in October, emergency rooms were overwhelmed with people suffering from a rare form of meningitis – most of them had received spinal injections of a pain-relieving steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, that was inadvertently tainted with a fungal contaminant.

As of December 17, there have been 620 cases of a rare form of fungal meningitis in 19 states, leading to 39 deaths. The hardest hit states included Michigan and Tennessee, which also had the highest number of fatalities. Many of those cases turned out to be laboratory-proven cases of rare fungal infections. The fungi, exserohilum rostratum, aspergillus, and cladosporium, are commonly found in the environment, but very rarely cause meningitis.

Physicians injected the unknowingly tainted steroid medication in the spines, knees and ankles of approximately 14,000 Americans from May to September of this year in order to alleviate the pain and swelling associated with arthritis and other joint disorders.

On October 6, the NECC voluntarily recalled the vials of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate, and released a statement indicating that they were “eager to review these findings as part of our continued cooperation with the CDC and FDA to identify the cause of this contamination.” The FDA found exserohilum fungi in unopened vials of the steroid in their investigation.

Overall, the entire incident sparked weeks of news coverage, a nationwide CDC investigation, and the closing of a national pharmacy as dozens pursued legal action.

Read More of 2012’s Top Health Stories: