Tenn. meningitis relapse case draws attention

One of the victims of last year's deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis has suffered a relapse.

Rebecca Climer, spokeswoman for Nashville's St. Thomas West Hospital, wrote in an e-mail that a patient was admitted after suffering a reoccurrence of the sometimes-deadly infection. The hospital reported the relapse to the Tennessee Department of Health. It also is contacting other fungal meningitis patients to alert them to be on the lookout for possible symptoms of a relapse.

The relapse was first reported in The Tennessean newspaper.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord and brain that is usually caused by a bacteria or virus. Fungal meningitis is extremely rare, and last year's outbreak is blamed on injectable steroids that were contaminated with mold from the now-closed New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.

Because the disease is so rare, health officials have called the treatment "new territory" and said there are no studies to advise how long patients should be kept on the powerful antifungal drugs that come with several nasty side effects.

"Infectious disease doctors have had a concern that a few patients may relapse and need additional treatment," said Vanderbilt infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner in a telephone interview from San Francisco, where he was attending an infectious diseases conference. He said experts across the country will be interested in what St. Thomas finds as it brings patients back in for evaluation.

He said whether a patient relapses will likely depend very much on his or her individual case.

"We hope it's not frequent," he said, calling it "an intensive wait-and-see."



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