Fungi blamed for meningitis rarely cause trouble - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Fungi blamed for meningitis rarely cause trouble

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NEW YORK -

The two kinds of fungus linked to a meningitis outbreak are found in plenty of places and rarely make people sick.

People inhale one kind, Aspergillus, all the time without any problem. It's nearly impossible to avoid, found in such places as decaying leaves, trees, grain, soil, household dust, heating ducts and building materials. The fungus can also cause skin infections if it enters a break in the skin.

The second kind, Exserohilum, is found in grass and rotting wood. When it causes disease, it's most commonly skin infection or inflammation in the sinuses.

Both were detected this week in patients with meningitis that occurred after a contaminated steroid was injected into the spinal column of some patients getting pain treatments. That provides a rapid way for fungus to cause a serious infection. It's not clear how the fungi got into the medication which was made by a specialty pharmacy.

Usually, after somebody inhales Aspergillus spores, they're destroyed by the body. But people with cystic fibrosis or asthma may have problems with it, wheezing and coughing. A more severe infection can arise in people with weakened immune systems, like those who've had transplant surgery or are getting chemotherapy for cancer. This invasive infection can cause fever, chest pain and shortness of breath.

Neither of those conditions spreads from person to person. It's hard to tell exactly how common Aspergillus infections are, but one study suggests it may affect just 1 or 2 people per 100,000 every year.

By MALCOLM RITTER AP Science Writer

LINK: Federal information: http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/aspergillosis

Federal and state health officials are investigating an outbreak of a rare and deadly form of meningitis. Some details:

Q: How were people infected?

A: The prime suspect is the steroid shots. Federal officials said that a fungus was found inside one sealed vial of the steroid and other vials also appeared to be contaminated.

Q: Where did the steroid come from?

A: A specialty pharmacy, New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., custom-made the steroid. The company has recalled nearly 17,700 vials. Shipments went to 75 clinics and other facilities in 23 states, but it isn't known how many vials may have been used. U.S. health officials urged doctors not to use any products from the company, which has shut down production.

Q: What is meningitis?

A: Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include a severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. Fungal meningitis is not contagious like the more common forms, bacterial and viral meningitis. It is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold.

LINK: CDC: Online: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/fungal.html

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