While Tennessee leads the nation in reported cases and deaths of fungal meningitis, reportedly resulting from steroid injections for back and neck treatment produced by the New England Compounding Center, the East Tennessee region remains unaffected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, only three facilities in Tennessee, the PCA Pain Care Center in Oak Ridge, Specialty Surgery Center in Crossville and St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical in Nashville, are recorded to have had the infected vials of Methylprednisolone Acetate.
Tennessee has had 49 cases reported and had six deaths associated with fungal meningitis, the CDC said. So far a total of 170 cases of the meningitis outbreak and 14 deaths have been reported in 11 states.
Despite the outbreak, local clinics want their patients to know they are safe to continue with treatments.
Dan Bragg, practice administrator for East Tennessee Brain and Spine Center, said he feels confident his facility is risk-free from harboring any contaminated vials and that the CDC and Tennessee Infectious Disease teams have the correct numbers associated with distribution of the injections.
“They’ve determined that there were 76 clinics that received product from this company,” Bragg said. “We’ve checked with all of our suppliers, of course, we don’t buy anything directly from (NECC) and nothing that we buy from our suppliers comes from them. We actually don’t even use the same type of steroid that is in question.”
He said with the closest affected clinics being in Oak Ridge and Roanoke, Va., people should not be concerned with getting the routine injection.
“What we’ve seen is a lot of hysteria and concern. People think if they have an injection that they’re going to die and that’s not the case, at least not in this area,” Bragg said. “It’s a scary thing. It is a serious problem, people are dying but ... I think the public is rushing to say that maybe these injections ... in general, shouldn’t be done. I think that’s a stretch. These injections have been the standard of care for back and neck pain for 20 years and they’re very effective in a lot of people.”
Pain Medicine Associates Administrator Lee McCoury said his company has also made the necessary phone call to the company’s supplier.
“We’ve had many, many phone calls ... since last Thursday and we have ... addressed every one of those individually and given them some ease of mind,” McCoury said. “We’ve been assured by our supplier of medication that they have the proper quality controls in place, that we’re going to get a quality product.”
Both Bragg and McCoury said both of their facilities have experienced some cancellations from people who fear they will become infected with fungal meningitis. They said they try to educate their patients with the fact the injections they are giving people are not infected.
“When patients call in with concerns or questions about it, all of our receptionists and our nurses are trained to talk to them and walk them through that process. We’ve also called patients who are scheduled for a procedure to tell them what’s going on and the fact that it’s safe and we don’t have this product in question,” Bragg said.
“We are now sending letters to patients, as well, who are scheduled for an injection ... so that they have the facts and they don’t worry or not get the treatment that they need because of fear. I think the fact that there was some bad product issued shouldn’t change the public’s general opinion of these types of procedures and I think people should just try not to overreact, try to educate themselves before making a decision,” he said.
Bragg said those unsure about whether to get an injection, even following the positive local results surrounding the outbreak, should contact their doctor about continuing treatment.
McCoury said his team wants their patients to feel at ease about this situation and they are there to answer any questions or concerns patients might have.
“We want them to feel at ease and if they feel any apprehension about having a procedure in the future, then that’s a decision they will need to make based on the best information that they have,” he said.
For updated information on the meningitis outbreak, visit CDC’s website, cdc.gov.