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Meningitis death toll reaches 4

  |   Oct. 3, 2012 at 8:18 PM
NASHVILLE, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Four people have died and 22 have been sickened by meningitis outbreaks in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Maryland, health officials said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday it is "almost certain" the rare fungal infection blamed on contaminated steroids will affect more people before it's over, NBC News reported.

The suspected culprit is contaminated vials of methylprednisolone acetate, a pain medicine injected directly into the spine.

Officials said the chief suspect is contaminated vials of a pain treatment injected directly into the spine. The drug is called methylprednisolone acetate.

"We have notified medical professionals the prime suspect for this outbreak is methylprednisolone," Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told reporters during a telephone briefing, adding it was not clear how far the drug had been distributed.

Eighteen people in Tennessee have been sickened by the fungal infection thus far, and Dr. David Reagan, chief medical officer of the Tennessee Department of Health, said, "There may be additional cases that come to light."

Meningitis is an inflammation of tissues around the brain, and is generally borne by bacteria or viruses.

Some of the sickened patients are improving and others are in critical condition.

"It's run the gamut," said Reagan.

Those infected received steroid injections at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center in Nashville between July 30 and Sept. 20 as a pain treatment, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Wednesday.

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