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Meningitis outbreak deaths rise to 20, CDC says

By David Bailey, Reuters

The number of deaths from fungal meningitis linked to potentially contaminated steroid injections has risen to 20 and the outbreak has reached a 16th state, New York, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday. 

The deadly outbreak of the rare disease showed no signs of abating, as nine new cases of meningitis were reported, bringing the national total to 254, plus three peripheral infections in joints.

Michigan reported its fourth death from meningitis. New cases also were reported in Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee.

The outbreak stems from medications shipped by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. The company faces multiple federal and state investigations and lawsuits over the tainted medications.

Also on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration said it has confirmed the presence of Exserohilum fungus in one of three lots of steroids used for pain injections from the pharmacy at the center of the widespread meningitis outbreak. That confirms the link between the contaminated drugs and the infections found in most of the afflicted patients. 

Testing on the other two implicated lots of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate and other injectable drugs from the New England Compounding Center continues, the agency said. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was no firm evidence of infection in any patients beyond those exposed to the contaminated lots. However, FDA officials warned doctors earlier this week to reach out to patients who received any drugs from NECC to check their health status because the agency could not assure that any of the products were sterile.

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