Ukiah patients warned of drug recall

  • This undated photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a branch of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. The fungus blamed for causing a meningitis outbreak in five states is widely distributed indoors and outdoors, but only very rarely makes people sick. People inhale aspergillus fungus all the time without any problem. It's nearly impossible to avoid, found in such places as decaying leaves, trees, grain, other plants, soil, household dust, ducts for air conditioning and heating, and building materials. The fungus can also cause skin infections if it enters a break in the skin. The meningitis outbreak is linked to the fungus being accidentally injected into people as a contaminant in steroid treatments. It's not clear how the fungus got into the medicine. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Libero Ajello)

More than 100 Ukiah Valley Medical Center patients have been alerted that they received doses of a pain medication that has been recalled because it has led to a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis in seven states.

No cases have been reported in California, where four hospitals have used the batch of recalled steroid medication, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate. But the drug was administered through epidural injection to 120 patients at the Ukiah center's Outpatient Pavilion, authorities said.

Of those, 79 had received the medication in July and are likely out of what federal disease experts say is the 30-day danger-zone period, Ukiah Valley Medical Center spokesman Nick Bejarano said.

But 41 patients of the center's pain specialist, Dr. Michael Young, still fall within that danger period, Bejarano said.

All 120 patients were telephoned, a letter was sent out Thursday, and follow-up calls also will be made, Bejarano said.

The drug was not administered in Sonoma County, said the county's public health officer, Lynn Silver Chalfin.

The injections Young gave his patients were similar to those given to patients at a Tennessee medical clinic who developed meningitis-like symptoms, Heather Van Housen, Ukiah Valley Medical Center's patient care executive, told the patients in a letter.

Anyone experiencing "unusual symptoms" within one to four weeks should seek medical care, she said.

"Although we don't anticipate any reactions to the injections, there are some symptoms you should be aware of," she said in the letter. "A stiffening of the neck or a different kind of headache than you've previously experienced, fever, stiffness, sensitivity to light or stroke-like symptoms."

The drug often was used to treat back pain and pain and swelling associated with arthritis and other joint diseases.

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