Md. clinics respond to meningitis outbreak

BERLIN — Several Maryland medical facilities spent Thursday calling patients who received injections of a possibly tainted steroid linked to the illnesses of about three dozen people in several states. At least five people have died.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said seven clinics around the state received the drug from a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts. The pharmacy issued a recall last week and has shut down operations. One person died in Maryland and another person is ill.

Health officials have not identified the Maryland resident who died. They say the outbreak is linked to steroid injections, mostly for back pain.

Some patients weren’t waiting to hear from the clinics.

“We have a lot of patients that are calling in that are concerned,” said Kim Merrill, the nurse administrator at the Harford County Ambulatory Surgery Center, one of the clinics that received the drug.

Merrill said she believed some 200 to 300 people needed to be contacted. She had no reports that anyone had become ill.

Robert Cherry, 71, a patient who received a steroid shot about a month ago, visited the clinic he had gotten his shot at Thursday morning after hearing it had received some of the tainted medicine. Cherry said he received the shot at Berlin Interventional Pain Management on Aug. 28, which he said was the first day covered by the recall.

“So far, I haven’t had any symptoms … but I just wanted to double check with them,” Cherry said. “They told me to check my temperature and if I have any symptoms… I should report straight to the emergency room, and that’s what I’ll do.”

Dr. Christopher Galuardi, who runs the Berlin clinic, said there were no reports of any of his patients had become ill. Galuardi said he received two lots of the drug recently. He returned one lot of 50 vials unused. Of the 30 vials in the earlier lot, 18 were used and 12 were returned, Galuardi said.

In addition to the Harford County Ambulatory Surgery Center and Berlin Interventional Pain Management, state officials say the drug was distributed to Box Hill Surgery Center, Abingdon; Greenspring Surgery Center, Baltimore; Maryland Pain Specialists, Towson; SurgCenter of Bel Air, Bel Air; and Zion Ambulatory Center, Baltimore.

An administrator at the SurgCenter of Bel Air said they had contacted six patients and none reported problems. An administrator at the Greenspring Surgery Center said they had about 300 people to contact and expected to have calls finished Thursday. Diana Beach, practice administrator at Maryland Pain Specialists of Towson, said Thursday no patients of Maryland Pain Specialists received spinal injections of the identified steroid from New England Compounding Center.