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Oct 9, 2012 12:37 AM

Meningitis Outbreak: Growing Numbers

(NBC NEWS) -The death toll from a fungal meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated steroid injections has reached eight, and thousands of people who received the drug are now worried about developing the deadly disease.

13,000 people nationwide may have received contaminated steroid injections to relieve their chronic pain, and now stress levels are high.

The New England Compounding Pharmacy in Massachusetts manufactured the steroid used for pain management between May and September.

It's a critical time frame in which investigators say many patients received injections contaminated with a fungus called aspergillos.

"We are cautiously optimistic that many of the efforts to reach patients and clinicians with information about this outbreak are succeeding," says the Tennessee Department of Health's Dr. John Dreyzehner.

Aspergillos can lurk silently in the body for up to a month before showing symptoms of a rare, but non-contagious form of meningitis.

It's sickened more than a hundred and killed at least eight.

The outbreak has lead to scrutiny of federal regulation of compounding pharmacies.

They're run by licensed pharmacists and can sometimes make medicines cheaper than major drug-makers.

The Food and Drug Administration has very little regulatory oversight of compounding pharmacies.

"They've seem to have fallen into a gap, and this is the problem that's resulted," says Vanderbilt University's Dr. William Schaffner.

Signs of the fungal meningitis include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, and problems speaking and walking.

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