Doctors Weigh in on Meningitis Outbreak

October 5, 2012 Updated Oct 5, 2012 at 10:21 PM EDT

By WKBW News

October 5, 2012 Updated Oct 5, 2012 at 10:21 PM EDT

BUFFALO (WKBW) A rare form of fungal meningitis has killed five people and sickened 30 across six states, and the contaminated shots that are the source of the infection were sent to New York State. The meningitis is coming from contaminated shots that doctors use to treat back pain, and it has physicians across the country concerned and proactive, including here in Western New York.

New York was one of twenty three states that received contaminated needles containing the rare and potentially deadly bacteria that causes meningitis.

"It usually causes problems in people with immune problems. but here, it was injected directly into the spine. it goes up to the brain, causes
inflammation. And in some people, it actually caused a stroke," Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News said.

The shots are primarily to treat back pain, a procedure used by doctors here in Western New York.

"It's a very common treatment that we use not only in Buffalo New York but around the world," Dr. William Capicotto, a spine surgeon at Sisters Hospital said.

No cases have been reported in New York State, but 30 people have gotten sick and five have died from meningitis so far, with potentially hundreds more affected. Doctors warn of early symptoms including headaches, fever, and a stiff neck. Doctors say symptoms take a long time to show, anywhere from a week to a full month. Health officials say anyone who has received an injection in the spine since July should check with their doctor.

"Early treatment can improve the outcome for these patients," Dr. Benjamin Park of the Center for Disease Control said.

But now, patients and doctors are on high alert, looking out for contaminated syringes and trying to keep the recent outbreak at bay.

"This is rare. This is quite rare, and the doctors were right on top of this, identified it, and the manufacturer has been identified, so all those viles will be taken off the shelves and that's probably limited to that manufacturer," Dr. Capicotto said.

And with enough precautions taken and the word getting out about the tainted supply, Dr. Capicotto had the news many wanted to hear.

"I think they've probably contained it," he said.

As for the specialty pharmacy that sent out the contaminated shots, the New England Compounding Center, has recalled three lots of the drug and has shut down operations.