Illinois steroid injections trigger investigation into Tennessee compounding pharmacy

May 24, 2013 (HERRIN, Ill.)

The injections contain the same medication that was at the center of last year's deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis.

The patients came down with pockets of pus right where the needle was injected for the steroid shots. One of the patients also has signs of fungus.

This has triggered an investigation from top to bottom- involving federal health agencies and state health departments, including Illinois'.

It's another health scare involving a compounding pharmacy. Seven patients so far – two in North Carolina, and five in downstate Herrin. All of them had steroid injections.

"What we're seeing in the patients is an abscess formation at the injection site. We don't know what's causing that. We don't know if it's a contaminant, a germ or infection, so we're doing laboratory testing to find that out," said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Illinois health officials say the compounding pharmacy, Main Street Family Pharmacy, is located in Newbern, Tenn. That pharmacy shipped steroid injections, or methylprednisolone acetate, to the Logan Primary Care clinic in Herrin. All five Illinois patients received injections at that clinic.

"Upon discovery that this was not an isolated incident, we ceased administering this medication as an injection and we removed the product from utilization," said Dr. Jeffrey Parks of Logan Primary Care.

The Illinois clinic has reached out to about 2,000 patients who received shots from December through most of April.

Overall, health officials say the Tennessee pharmacy shipped steroid injections to 13 states, from California to the Carolinas. Though serious, it hasn't proven deadly.

Last year, fungal meningitis proved deadly after 55 people received contaminated steroid injections from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy. Nearly 750 others got sick.

"It's not as concerting from a public health standpoint as meningitis. It certainly isn't life threatening," said Hasbrouck.

Illinois department of public health has two priorities right now: make sure all those Tennessee steroid injections are off the shelves, and make sure everyone who got a shot is notified.

At this point, Illinois health officials say it does not appear that any Chicago area clinics received the steroids.

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