An outbreak of aspergillus meningitis that has sickened 30 and killed 5 people has been linked to spinal steroid injections, a common treatment for back pain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported that a vial of the steroid, called methylprednisolone acetate, was found to contain fungus.

Most of the cases, and 3 deaths, have been in Tennessee. There have also been cases reported in Virginia, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.

As if workers’ comp patients suffering back pain, and the people managing their cases, didn’t have enough to worry about. There is no immediate word on whether any of these specific cases were comp related, but the scare is no doubt causing some people to reconsider their current pain regimen. It is estimated that 900 patients in Tennessee alone received these potentially tainted injections.

The steroid was produced by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., a specialty pharmacy. It has shut down operations and has recalled three lots of the drug.

75 clinics in 23 states that received and administered the affected lots are in the process of notifying patients of their potential exposure. While it remains to be seen how many of those patients are in the workers’ comp system, the potential for complications of any claims looms large.  

Beyond the threat of illness or death, the concept of exposure alone gives back pain sufferers another pain in the rear.

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