End in Sight for Meningitis Outbreak

A graph from the Tennessee Department of Health shows infections per week dropping since the first of October.

A graph from the Tennessee Department of Health shows infections per week dropping since the first of October.

The discovery of new fungal meningitis infections has slowed down considerably here in Tennessee, where the disease was first identified. An end to the outbreak is in sight, according to the state’s top doctors.

The state Department of Health has been tracking more than a thousand people who received epidural steroid injections. Three-quarters of them are now beyond the danger window given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner says fewer people are at risk of developing fungal meningitis by the day.

“Within 15 days – November the 8th – patients exposed in Tennessee will have passed the 42 day mark. This is the light at the end of the tunnel.”

During the first week of October, 29 cases of fungal meningitis were diagnosed in Tennessee. Last week, only six new cases were identified.

However, the 70 Tennesseans who’ve been infected have a long road ahead, taking unpleasant anti-fungal medication possibly for months.

Health officials say 11 people in Tennessee have now improved enough to be discharged from the hospital and finish their recovery at home. Nine people have died in the state.

Catching Meningitis Early

When the outbreak began, patients were entering emergency rooms with white blood cell counts in their spinal fluid greater than 10,000. Now, Dreyzehner says some people have been diagnosed with white blood cell counts in the single digits.

“To see these lower counts indicates we’re finding infected persons sooner.”

Dreyzehner credits media attention to the meningitis outbreak.

Finding patients early on could be saving lives, according to researchers. In studying the case of a 51-year-old woman who died 10 days after being diagnosed, doctors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine say she declined rapidly after symptoms appeared.

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