A medical specialist says more U.S. meningitis infections could be discovered now that federal officials have raised concerns about additional drugs made by the producer of a tainted medication linked to the initial cases.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is investigating a possible meningitis case in a patient who received a spinal injection, as well as two cases in which heart transplant patients contracted fungal infections. All three patients received drugs produced by the New England Compounding Center, which is under investigation for the meningitis outbreak that has killed 15 people.
Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Department of Preventive Medicine, said the full extent of the outbreak caused by the contaminated drugs may not be known for weeks.
"We are in the middle of a phenomenon. We are not near to the end of this investigation yet," Schaffner said.
Federal health officials say the deaths from fungal meningitis and more than 200 cases of illness are believed to be linked to the tainted steroid medication produced by the Massachusetts compounding pharmacy.
With media now reporting that other medications produced by the company may have infected at least three people, health officials are advising doctors to contact all patients who were injected with drugs made by the company.
Schaffner says the new warnings indicate there could be widespread contamination.
"Our worst fears appear to be realized. We have been concerned from the beginning that if one kind of medication was contaminated, is it possible that other kinds of medications also were contaminated. Now, the FDA does not say that definitively, but they have given us a heads-up that that is likely," Schaffner said.
He says the cases show the FDA needs to extend its regulatory authority over compounding pharmacies, which custom-mix specific doses of approved medications to meet the needs of individual patients.
Schaffner says compounding pharmacies should be held to the same standards as other pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Meningitis infects membranes protecting the brain and spinal cord. The current outbreak is affecting people in at least 15 states.