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US meningitis deaths: pharmacy firms plan voluntary shutdown

  • @guyadams

Two pharmacy companies in the Boston area plan to cease operations as a “precautionary move” after an outbreak of meningitis linked to tainted medication killed 12 people.

The death toll from the outbreak across 10 states has sparked consumer panic and calls for stricter regulation of the drug industry.

About 13,000 people are believed to have been injected with steroids prepared by a New England company which issued a product recall after discovering that its production facility was contaminated with a fungus that causes a virulent form of the disease.

So far, 121 of those people have contracted meningitis, mostly requiring hospital treatment. But that number is expected to rise: the disease's incubation period is up to a month, so thousands more patients are currently waiting anxiously to see if they will also fall ill.

Health officials said last night that Ameridose LLC, a private company that mixes drugs for hospitals nationwide, is expected to shut down for a week. Alaunus Pharmaceutical also will temporarily cease distribution.

Among the victims so far is Lilian Cary, a British-born resident of Michigan who had been injected with the drug, methylprednisolone acetate, to help with neck and back pain. Her husband, George, also takes the steroid and now faces an anxious wait to discover if he will require treatment. "Not only have I lost my wife, but I'm now watching the clock to see if anything develops. I'm waiting for results," George Cary, 65, told reporters at her memorial service last week. "I've lost my best friend."

Lilian, who originally came from Stoke-on-Trent and immigrated to the US in 1965 to work as a nanny, was taken to hospital with severe headaches, a temperature, and nausea. She was diagnosed with fungal meningitis, but initially seemed to be responding to treatment.

However, she later lost consciousness and suffered a fatal stroke.

The steroid which killed Lilian Carey, 67, – along with the 11 other victims – is believed to have been contaminated at the New England Compounding Centre, a Massachusetts firm which takes individual drugs and packages them into medications that can then be administered to patients.

Critics say their deaths highlight the need for greater regulation of such packaging firms. Unlike actual drug manufacturers, which are heavily regulated by federal authorities, packaging companies operate in a comparative black hole, with only limited oversight from State and local authorities.