Meningitis outbreak worries local patients

Recalled steroid may be behind outbreak

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Amid the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis, one Eastlake doctor says he has had a spike in calls from patients concerned about the risks.

Dr. Michael Verdolin, an interventional pain management specialist, demonstrated a spinal steroid injection using a long thin needle, syringe and model of a spine. 

An actual procedure generally takes about 3 minutes. The procedure is a very common technique to treat back pain. Verdolin said he has performed about 2,000 in the last year alone. 

It is also the same type of procedure that the Centers for Disease Control said is behind the outbreak of fungal meningitis.  

"This morning alone, another 10 phone calls with a patient who went straight to the emergency room," said Verdolin.

Verdolin's patient is just fine. He said the anxiety level prompted him to assure his patients that he not only does not get his supplies from the company in question but he does not even use that type of steroid. 

Verdolin said he is very careful about where he gets his medications.

"I always pay attention to where I'm sourcing my materials from, but I never thought that I would have to get into the business of quality checking their quality checking," he said.

Lack of quality checking may be the problem. The New England Compounding Center, where investigators say the fungal contamination behind the meningitis outbreak originated, is one of 7,500 small pharmacies in the United States that mix and blend custom medicines but are not federally regulated the way major pharmaceutical companies are

The recalled steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, was shipped to about 75 clinics in the United States but none in the San Diego area. The closest clinic on the list is in Palmdale.

"The key issue is for patients to ask where their medicine is coming from… is it coming from an accredited or inspected facility?" said Verdolin.

This type of meningitis is not contagious and the spinal injection is not the same as an epidural given to pregnant women.

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