Four of the 105 confirmed cases in a fungal meningitis outbreak have occurred in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eight people have now died nationwide in the outbreak linked to contaminated steroid injections, the CDC said Monday.
It said it discovered that the drugs were administered much earlier than previously suspected, starting in late May. And more than 13,000 people across the U.S. may have been exposed to the contaminated batch of pain medicine from a Massachusetts specialty pharmacy, officials said.
The New England Compounding Center announced a voluntary recall of all of its products over the weekend in what it called a precautionary move.
The pharmacy said it issued the recall out of an abundance of caution because of the risk of contamination – but said there is not indication that any other products have been contaminated.
The pharmacy has said that it is cooperating with investigators.
The Florida Department of Health said eight facilities in the state carried the contaminated steroid methylprednisolone acetate, which is injected into the spine to relieve back pain.
Six people at Surgical Park Center on Kendall Drive received the potentially tainted medicine. That facility has said that it stopped using products from the New England Compounding Center and informed the affected patients of the situation.
The Department of Health said in a statement Monday that it has disseminated information on the issue to 30 professional health care associations in recent days.
“The Florida Society of Neurology cannot overemphasize the importance of contacting your health care provider if you find that you may be at risk,” said the organization's president, Dr. Daniel Kantor. “Fungal meningitis is a very serious condition and we stand ready to assist the Department of Health in securing the health and safety of Floridians.”
Diana Reed of Nashville, Tennessee is one of the victims who have died in the outbreak.
"I lost a treasure of a friend,” Par Ward said of her. “I lost my best friend.”
Now, clinics around the country are reaching out to patients to check up on their health.
The fungus can lurk silently in the body for up to a month before patients show symptoms.
The rare form of meningitis is not contagious. Patients who have received the injections are advised to contact their doctors.
Symptoms include headache, fever, a stiff neck, altered mental status, confusion and lethargy, Dr. Jim Turner said.
The outbreak has lead to scrutiny over federal regulation. The Food and Drug Administration has very little regulatory oversight of compounding pharmacies.
“They seem to have fallen into a gap and this is the problem that's resulted,” Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University said.
The FDA told health professionals not to use any products distributed by the New England Compounding Center before it issued its recall.