Clinical Negligence Solicitor James Bell on the Tennessee outbreak of Meningitis - a model example of how to deal with major health concerns - Clinical Negligence Advice Helpline

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Clinical Negligence Solicitor James Bell on the Tennessee outbreak of Meningitis – a model example of how to deal with major health concerns

A Massachusetts, USA pharmacy has been linked to an outbreak of Meningitis in Tennessee. Contaminated steroid injections are thought to be the cause.

Huge praise and thanks must go to the young doctor who alerted federal officials in the USA that a steroid medicine might be the cause of the infections – an action that quickly mobilised the entire nation’s health-care system to identify illnesses in other states and keep more people from getting sick.

A Tennessee doctor, April Pettit, made the connection between the injections and the illnesses, after a patient with symptoms of Meningitis did not respond to antibacterials and a spinal tap showed no evidence of the usual infectious agents. So she ordered a second spinal tap with instructions to test for fungal pathogens.

She knew something was wrong when it tested positive for Aspergillus — a type of fungal infection that usually affects only people with compromised immune systems. She also learned that her patient had had an epidural injection some time previously and wondered if this was how he caught the infection.

“I thought the health department should investigate that possibility,” Dr. Pettit said.

So she sent an email and officials within the state Department of Health took up the investigation.

Within two days, a couple of patients with Meningitis-like symptoms who also had received the injections were admitted to Hospital. They had no proof of an unusual pathogen, such as a fungal agent, but they were looking at the connection when Dr. Marion Kainer, director of healthcare-associated infections for the state, called. They reported their two cases.

Tennessee then alerted the nationwide Centre for Disease Control that there could be a potential problem with contaminated products associated with epidural steroid injections used for pain management.

However, more than 1,000 Tennessee state residents who had already received the steroid epidural injections will still have to wait and wonder whether the pathogen that causes the disease – a common mould called Aspergillus – is incubating in their spinal columns.

16 patients are believed to have the fungal Meningitis, including two in critical condition. Two patients have already died.

Many more could have died across the USA had it not been for the actions of Dr. April Pettit and the quick actions of the Centre for Disease Control.

Seasoned legal observers will be able to compare and contrast the response by the US government officials with the way in which the Cleavage Sparing Mastectomy cases, the problems with the De Puy ASR Hips and the PIP implants have been dealt with by the UK government and health authorities.