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Tennessee patient treated in 2012 meningitis outbreak has relapse

By Timothy Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct 5 (Reuters) - A patient treated during the deadly meningitis outbreak in the United States last year that was tied to contaminated steroid injections is back in the hospital for a recurrence of the infection, a Nashville hospital said on Saturday.

"The patient was admitted to Saint Thomas West Hospital on October 3 and is now receiving appropriate treatment at the hospital," hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Climer said.

Other patients treated during the deadly 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis were being contacted to determine whether they too were showing symptoms of relapse, Climer said in a statement. Those signs include persistent and severe headache, worsening back pain and unexplained fever, the hospital said.

People who suffered illness in the outbreak that was first detected in Nashville in September 2012 were jolted by the phone calls from the hospital, said Nashville attorney Mark Chalos, who represents 10 families, including some whose relatives died.

"It's a very scary situation and my clients are very worried about their health," Chalos told Reuters. "They have struggled for more than a year with a severe illness and it looks like there's no end in sight to their suffering."

Tennessee was the second hardest-hit state, behind Michigan, in the 2012 outbreak, which killed dozens of people and made 750 people ill nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The outbreak was linked to the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts and injections of a fungus-tainted steroid typically used to ease back pain.

Some 2,000 vials of the drug went to Nashville's St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center, which received more than any other facility in the nation.

The CDC could not be reached for additional information about the recurrences of infection because of the U.S. federal government shutdown. Calls to CDC phones were answered by recordings about furloughed workers.

The outbreak of fungal meningitis was first detected at Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where a doctor traced a dying patient's unusual symptoms to an epidural steroid injection at St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center.

The outbreak raised awareness about potential problems at compounding pharmacies and the U.S. House of Representatives last month passed legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to regulate companies that compound sterile drugs and ship them across state lines.

The Drug Quality and Security Act, which now goes to the Senate for a vote, would create national standards to track pharmaceuticals through the distribution chain to bar fake medication.