NYC Focused on Two Meningitis Outbreaks

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene--based now in new offices in Long Island City, Queens--told PIX 11 Monday it's in the process of contacting local, medical facilities that may have purchased tainted medicine from the Massachusetts specialty pharmacy linked to a national, meningitis outbreak.  Fifteen people have died, and more than two hundred people have contracted the illness.  Eight cases of fungal meningitis have been reported in New Jersey.

Dr. Jay Varma, the city's Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control, said "There are many facilities in New York City and New York State that did buy some medication from this pharmacy."  The pharmacy in question is the New England Compounding Center. Originally, the fungus was only tied to one type of steroid-based medicine, methylprednisolone acetate, which is used to manage pain.  The Centers for Disease Control said some 14,000 people in 23 states may have received injections, using the Massachusetts batch of medicine.  Now, other medicines used in heart surgery and eye procedures may be suspect.

"Many people who have had severe pain will receive an injection of this medication into their back, to help reduce pain and swelling," Dr. Varma said. "Unfortunately, in this situation, the medications that were injected were contaminated with this fungi."

The fungus causes a rare form of meningitis that's difficult to treat.  Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain.  

Dr. Varma also told PIX 11 some people may have been injected in the shoulder, knee or ankle with the tainted medicine.

New York City Health officials are also monitoring a bacterial meningitis outbreak that's affecting HIV-positive men who may have had casual, sexual encounters through web dating or "app" hook-ups.  Four men have died in recent weeks.  

Dr, Marjorie Hill, Executive Director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, said men should be aware of meningitis symptoms like fever, rash, stiff neck, or headache and said those most at risk would be "individuals who are HIV positive....who have engaged in casual sex with a partner or partners since September 1st."

Dr. Varma at the Health Department told PIX 11, "That's the kind of meningitis alot of people get scared about, because they''ll read about it happening in a college dormitory or military facility.  We know that these strains are all related to each other."

The Health Department is urging HIV positive men to get meningitis vaccinations.  

"We estimate there are probably about ten thousand men in New York City who would meet our criteria for being vaccinated against this form of meningitis," Dr. Varma said.