Illness traced to epidural steroid injection
By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
The state has five confirmed reports of fungal meningitis in Kentucky, and three or four evidently occurred in the southern Pennyrile.
An epidural steroid injection from Massachusetts is apparently causing the statewide outbreak, and though no facilities in Kentucky have received it, a major Nashville clinic — the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center — did use the injection.
All five Kentuckians who contracted the illness received medical care in Tennessee, the state reported. Facilities in Crossville and Knoxville, Tenn., also used the injection, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kentucky’s health cabinet is not specifying where the affected Kentuckians live, but Jen Harris, director of the Todd County Health Department, said the state’s Department for Public Health notified her Saturday of two cases in Todd County.
One is Bill Johnson Sr., whose son ran against Rand Paul for U.S. Senate and Alison Lundergan Grimes for Kentucky Secretary of State.
Carolyn Bland, director of the Trigg County Senior Center, was hospitalized Oct. 3 for meningitis, said her daughter, Beth Taylor.
Eddie Lovelace, a longtime circuit judge from Clinton County, died of meningitis last month. His widow told the Lexington Herald-Leader he had been treated at Saint Thomas.
That leaves one more case. Mark Pyle, director of the Christian County Health Department,and Mary Powell, an epidemiologist who covers Western Kentucky, deferred comment to the state.
Anyone who has received an epidural steroid injection since May 21 should see a doctor if any of these symptoms arise: worsening headache, fever, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, new weakness or numbness anywhere in the body and slurred speech, according to a news release from the state.
The steroid came from New England Compounding Center, the CDC reported. The company voluntarily ceased operations on Oct. 3 and later recalled the steroid amidst an investigation.
Seventy-five facilities in 23 states received the steroid. Altogether health officials have reported 119 infections and 11 deaths across the nation, and six of those deaths were in Tennessee, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Dr. John Dreyzehner, the state’s public health commissioner, told a group of reporters last week Tennessee had received a “disproportionate share” of the compound.
Ambulatory Care Center in Evansville, Ind., also received the steroid, according to the CDC’s report.
Kentucky’s public health department told Harris the state may ask the Todd County Health Department for help investigating the outbreak locally. It told her to stand by.
Bill Johnson, who will turn 70 next month, received two steroid shots at Saint Thomas, his wife, Sandra Johnson said. He later felt a severe headache, pain in the back of his neck, and a fever above 102 degrees.
On Sept. 22, when he could hardly walk, he went to Jennie Stuart Medical Center. In hindsight, it impresses his son — Bill Johnson Jr. — that doctors there diagnosed it before the outbreak became national news.
“They were on it quick, and they really did a good job,” he said.
Bill Johnson Sr. transferred to Saint Thomas on Sept. 24. His condition seems to be improving, though his wife doesn’t know when he’ll come home.
Carolyn Bland received an injection on Sept. 11, Taylor said. Her condition is now “fair to stable,” and she feels better some days than others, Taylor said.
For the CDC’s complete list of the facilities that received the steroid, broken down by state, visit http://www.cdc.gov/hai/outbreaks/meningitis-facilities-map.html