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Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Still Taking Its Toll

Eleven months after headlines broke all over the nation about a fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated injections, the fallout continues for victims and regulators. The illnesses shined a light on compounding pharmacies and the role they play in the health care industry. The pharmacies exist under a different regulatory scheme than other drug manufacturers. With the company responsible for the infections, the New England Compounding Center, having sickened hundreds of people and killed dozens more, people searched for ways to make sure this never happened again.

The Senate is considering several bills that would give the Food and Drug Administration greater authority in overseeing compounding pharmacies. These proposals should reach the Senate floor sometime this fall. At present, compounding pharmacies are regulated by the states. The form this regulation takes may vary greatly from state to state.

Those who received contaminated injections are continuing to face challenges. The illness was virtually unheard of in humans prior to this outbreak. It was considered a plant virus and very little was known about how to combat the condition in people. More than 700 people have contracted the illness and many of them are still in treatment. The outbreak has claimed the lives of 63 victims so far.

One patient who is suffering from fungal meningitis has been hospitalized for 40 nights since she contracted the illness. She has amassed $430,000 in medical bills to date and doctors cannot tell her if or when she will be free of the illness. It is a frightening ordeal that continues to afflict hundreds of people around the country.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Dangers From Compounding Pharmacies Persist,” by Timothy W. Martin 9 September 2013

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