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Cause of Contamination Under Investigation in Multi-State Meningitis Outbreak

Filed October 18th, 2012 Laurie

More than 230 people have been sickened in 15 states—with a potential 16 deaths—in an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has been traced back to the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Massachusetts. The toxin was found in an injectable steroid/painkiller combination that was compounded at the specialty pharmacy.

The investigation is focusing on how the meningitis made its way into the medication. According to federal and state investigators, the fungus was discovered in more than 50 vials at NECC, but no one is speaking out about any problems they may have seen at the pharmacy. CBS News reports that criminal investigators from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) were at the pharmacy this week.

Officials are warning the public not to assume too much about the cause of the outbreak, but “the betting money seems to be on dirty conditions, faulty sterilizing equipment, tainted ingredients or sloppiness on the part of employees,” according to CBS News.

Compounding pharmacies are not subject to the same strict regulations as major drug makers. They are expected to clean the floors and other surfaces daily, monitor the air in the “clean rooms” where drugs are made, and require employees to wear gloves and gowns and test samples from each lot. CBS says that most inspections are carried out by state boards of pharmacy.

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