Health Care for Profit: The Deadly Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Spreads across America
By Kate Randall
October 19, 2012
The deadly fungal meningitis outbreak in the US continues to spread. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 247 people in 15 states have been sickened in the outbreak, and the death toll has risen to 19. Health authorities expect these numbers to continue to rise.
Tens of thousands of people seeking relatively routine treatment for back pain now face the threat of contracting a deadly disease. All of those so far infected received injections of an apparently fungus-contaminated steroid medication made by a specialty compounding pharmacy in suburban Boston.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Those contracting the illness must receive months-long doses of intravenous anti-fungal medication, but the treatment is not fail-safe. Meningitis has a high fatality rate: close to 8 percent of those diagnosed in the present outbreak have died so far.
The CDC is in crisis mode, identifying the fungi involved, urging health care providers to notify all those at threat for infection so they can be monitored and receive treatment as needed as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the estimated 14,000 people who received the tainted injections must play an excruciating waiting game as they watch for signs of infection.
The public is rightly asking: How could such a health catastrophe occur in 21st century America? Who is responsible and how will they be held to account? What steps can be taken to avoid such an outbreak in the future? The answers to these questions go far beyond the very real emergency posed by the present outbreak. They point not only to the reckless and irresponsible actions of the businesses and government regulatory agencies involved, but to the operation of the health care system as a whole.