LITTLE ROCK – The state Department of Health said Wednesday that six hospitals and two clinics in Arkansas purchased medical products made by the same pharmacy linked to an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed 16 people and sickened more than 230 across 15 states.
Dr. Dirk Haselow, the department’s medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations, said there is no evidence that any of the products tainted the fungal meningitis, and that the steroid injections which federal health officials believe are the source of the outbreak were not purchased by the hospitals or clinics in Arkansas.
The products sent to medical facilities in the state, including antibiotic impregnated beads used in orthopedic surgeries, a number of products for intro-venous therapy and pain relievers, have all been pulled from the shelves, the Health Department said.
"We have not confirmed that any of these other products (found in Arkansas hospitals or clinics) are contaminated," Haselow said. "We have not confirmed that any of these other products are associated with illness, and we did not receive any of the products that were directly associated with the (outbreak)."
Arkansas became part of the probe after federal health officials expanded an already multi-state investigation to all products made by New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Massachusetts.
Haselow said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration searched the site Tuesday and "the results were concerning to them and they expanded the recall to everything this company makes."
The hospitals and clinics in Arkansas that purchased products from NECC include the University for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, the UAMS Cancer Institute, the John L. McClellan Veterans Hospital, Northwest Medical Center in Springdale, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, Siloam Springs Regional Medical Center, the Cosmetic Surgery Center in Little Rock and Earl Aesthetics & Wellness in Bentonville.
State health officials said Wednesday they were in close contact with the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure all those products and the hospitals to which they have been sent so they can be removed from the shelves.
"We understand that people might be concerned about this," Haselow said. "We are working with the eight providers … to recall these medicines and notify patients if physicians feel a patient might be at risk for illness."
Haselow said some of the products have been on shelves at the hospitals or clinics for as long as six months, so there is a good chance they were used to treat patients.
"None of the products distributed to any Arkansas facility has been associated with illness at the time," Haselow said. "The recall is being done out of an abundance of caution due to conditions found at the NECC plant."
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include severe headache, nausea, dizziness and fever. Many of the cases nationwide have been mild, according to the CDC, but some people have had strokes. Symptoms appear one to four weeks after patients received the injections, and at least one illness occurred 42 weeks after the shot.
The meningitis cases were found to have been caused by fungi that are common in the environment but rarely cause meningitis.
Nearly 14,000 people nationwide are believed to be at risk of infection because they received injections from suspect steroid medications shipped to 76 facilities in 23 states.