Texas News/Health
1:00 am
Wed October 10, 2012

North Texas Clinics Inform Patients About Possible Tainted Steroid Injections

Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Southlake last month began calling 114 people who received a recalled spinal steroid injection.

The injection has been linked to an outbreak of a rare type of fungal meningitis in 10 other states.

President Traci Bernard said the hospital followed up with registered letters about the injections and warning signs and symptoms of the fungal meningitis, as well as media interviews and press releases to keep the general public informed.

Traci Bernard: To date we have had a handful of patients who have come in to be seen by their physician and have received some additional testing. But there have been absolutely no cases of meningitis, and all the lab results have come back negative.

Are you still getting a lot of calls, a lot of questions from people?

The interesting things is more from people who didn’t get a phone call and wanted to make sure they weren’t one of the patients who received that particular lot of steroids. So, a little anxiety on the part of the public and we certainly welcome those phone calls. But again, all the patients who received the injection have already been notified by phone and by certified letter.

Are you still doing business with the compound pharmacy in Massachusetts that’s been in question?

That compound center is actually closed down right now as they are becoming more involved in the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) investigation.

If they were back in operation, would you continue to work with them?

This is very rare that something like this happens. I couldn’t speak to whether we would or wouldn’t. This particular compound center does provide a non-preservative steroid that is used in these particular back injections. So, if that was a source to provide that particular medication, certainly we would still consider them as a source, but at this point until we find out what the investigation brings forth, obviously all of the medication that we received from that particular compound center has been taken off our shelves and is not being used.

When you get word of something like this happening, what goes through your mind? I would imagine that has got to be your worst nightmare as a hospital administrator.

You know I have been in health care since the late 80s and this is the first time I’ve gone through something like this. We do get recalls for supplies, medication, but never a situation like this where there’s been such an impact on the patient.  Our goal is to provide safe, quality care and we expect that same level of service and product distribution from the people that serve us.  So, yes, there is a level of frustration on our part and concern as well.

Part of the information that you’re sharing is about symptoms, warning signs (of fungal meningitis), so what should those patients be on the watchout for?

Headaches that are more severe than your normal headaches. Stiffness in their neck. Some patients, in these cases in other states, have had nausea, fatigue, a sensitivity to light. But we do encourage these particular patients who receive this injection: If you have any concerns, questions, please see your physician or comeback to our emergency department because we think it’s important that we continue to monitor and help these patients in alleviating their anxiety and make sure that symptoms don’t actually relate to a potential case of meningitis.

And again, this is a kind of meningitis that is not contagious?

Correct. Meningitis can be contracted either viral – it’s a bacteria – or it’s a fungus. This particular contaminant is a fungus and it is not contagious to the public.

And the injection in question – not this particular lot, but in general – is this a common treatment for back pain?

It’s a very common treatment for back pain, and a good treatment, a good option for patients because it’s an opportunity to treat chronic back pain without having to do an invasive procedure like a surgical procedure. So often, physicians will opt for physical therapy or these pain injections for the back prior to bringing a patient into surgery.  

Traci Bernard is president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Southlake.

Dallas Back Pain Management also received a shipment of the injections and is notifying patients who may have been exposed.

Related Articles:

Time magazine: 5 Things You Need to Know About Fungal Meningitis

U.S. National Library of Medicine

Docs say spine shots for steroids are usually safe