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Local pain clinics inundated with calls of concern about meningitis

By Meredith Machen, mmachen@wcyb.com
Published On: Oct 09 2012 05:23:19 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 10 2012 04:01:06 PM CDT

A deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis found in Tennessee and Virginia has local pain clinics fielding a sea of questions and concerns.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -

A deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis found in Tennessee and Virginia has local pain clinics fielding a sea of questions and concerns.

We checked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and learned in Tennessee and Virginia; facilities using a potentially tainted steroid injection from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy are in Oak Ridge, Crossville, and Nashville as well as Roanoke and Christianburg.

While these centers aren't local to our area, it doesn't mean the concerns can't be found here at home.

It might be plastered on the door, but questions are pouring into the office of Pain Medicine Associates wondering if deadly fungal meningitis is found here in the Tri-Cities. "We began to get phone calls and emails on Thursday of last week after the news broke," said Lee McCoury, the administrator of Pain Medicine Associates.

We learned the calls keep coming. McCoury said they are getting about 40 calls a day. Patients want to know if their pain medicine is safe.

We're told some have even opted to stop treatments altogether. "It's a very bad disease; very bad infection, and people should be concerned about it," said Dr. Turney Williams with Pain Medicine Associates.

Dr. Williams told us the steroid injection he uses at his clinic was not the one recalled. Theirs are from a company that distributes out of Arkansas.

But there's another issue worrying doctors and patients -- should the government be keeping a closer eye on compounding pharmacies like the one linked to this deadly outbreak? "Unfortunately, they are not regulated. There are 2,000 to 3,000 compounding companies in the United States, but they are not regulated as a manufacturer would be," Dr. Williams explained.

And that worries local residents who may not use the steroid injection in question but may use other drugs in the future. "I'm sure there's a lot of other drugs that compounding pharmacies put together like that under the same circumstances, and if that's true, then they all need to be looked at so that there's a standard out there," said Wayne Honeycutt, a local resident.

With the death toll on the rise, that's something legislators told us they expect to see. "I can almost guarantee you that will come up this year," said Congressman Phil Roe.

We checked the latest facts and learned six people have died as a result of this outbreak in Tennessee and one died from Southwest Virginia.

An ongoing investigation from the Tennessee Department of Health reveals the fungal infection is a fungus so rare that most physicians never see it in a lifetime of practicing medicine, and incubation period could be up to three months.