Officials struggle to track down patients at risk of fungal meningitis: 3 updates

Public health officials are having a hard time trying to track and test nearly 200 people in the U.S. who may be at risk for fungal meningitis tied to cosmetic procedures performed at two clinics in Mexico, NBC News reported June 12. 

Fewer than half of the 179 people in the U.S. who may have been exposed have been contacted by health officials, Tom Chiller, MD, head of the CDC's fungal diseases branch, estimates. Incorrect names and contact numbers have made it challenging to track down patients who had procedures done at the two now-closed clinics in Matamoros, Mexico, between Jan. 1 and May 13. 

"We're being very aggressive and telling people to go in, yet we're getting some hesitation on people that are asymptomatic," Dr. Chiller told NBC. "This is a serious illness and it can manifest late, so you may not feel anything right now." 

Officials are also concerned about some patients who may be at risk being turned away at emergency departments for not having symptoms of meningitis. In the current outbreak, symptoms have appeared about 18 days up to one month after undergoing surgery. Most of the individuals who may be at risk are in Texas, and most are women. 

"It's critical, whether you're symptomatic or not, if you've been exposed to an epidural anesthesia in one of these clinics you get evaluated," Dr. Chiller said. "We're going to treat aggressively because we know for a fact that early treatment is what saves lives."

Two more updates: 

  • As of June 7, there have been four confirmed deaths tied to the outbreak, according to the CDC. Fusari solani was isolated in the cerebrospinal fluid of several affected patients — the same fungus linked to a separate outbreak of meningitis in Durango, Mexico, last year. In that outbreak, there was a nearly 50 percent mortality rate. 

  • The CDC updated clinicians on the outbreak June 8 and recommended that infected patients be treated with a combination of two fungal medications: liposomal amphotericin B and voriconazole for a suggested minimum of three to six months. After beginning therapy, they recommend close monitoring of the patient throughout the suggested duration.

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