Tenn. hospital: Fungal meningitis patient relapsed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — One of the victims of last year’s deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis has suffered a relapse.

Rebecca Climer, spokeswoman for Nashville’s Saint Thomas West Hospital, wrote in an email that a patient was admitted on Thursday after suffering a reoccurrence of the sometimes-deadly infection.

The hospital reported the relapse to the Tennessee Department of Health. It also is contacting other fungal meningitis patients to alert them to be on the lookout for possible symptoms of a relapse.

The relapse was first reported in The Tennessean newspaper.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord and brain that is usually caused by a bacteria or virus. Fungal meningitis is extremely rare, and last year’s outbreak is blamed on injectable steroids that were contaminated with mold from the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.

Because the disease is so rare, health officials have called the treatment “new territory” and said there are no studies to advise how long patients should be kept on the powerful antifungal drugs that come with several nasty side effects.

“Infectious disease doctors have had a concern that a few patients may relapse and need additional treatment,” Vanderbilt infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner said on Friday in a phone interview from San Francisco, where he was attending an infectious diseases conference.

Schaffner said experts across the country will be interested in what Saint Thomas finds as it brings patients back in for evaluation.

He said whether a patient relapses will likely depend very much on his or her individual case.

“We hope it’s not frequent,” he said, but called it “an intensive wait-and-see.”

Mark Chalos, an attorney representing several fungal meningitis patients, said at least one of his clients has received a phone call from Saint Thomas and is very worried about what will happen to her.

A majority of Tennessee patients received the contaminated injections from Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center in Nashville. The other two Tennessee clinics that used the contaminated drugs were the Specialty Surgery Center in Crossville and the PCA Pain Care Center in Oak Ridge.

The outbreak killed 16 people in Tennessee and sickened another 153. Nationally, 64 patients died while 750 were sickened.

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