UPDATED Oct. 8, 1:39 p.m.: Meningitis cases associated with the tainted steroids have risen to 105, the Associated Press reported, and the number of deaths has risen to eight.
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UPDATED Oct. 7, 4:03 p.m.: The number of meningitis cases associated with the tainted steroid injections has risen to 91, Reuters reported. Seven people in total have died from the outbreak.
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UPDATED Oct. 6, 11:23 p.m.: The number of deaths from the meningitis outbreak has risen to seven, UPI reported. The number of total cases of meningitis has risen to 64; nine states have cases of the outbreak (now including Minnesota and Ohio).
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UPDATED Oct. 5, 3:47 p.m.: The number of people who have been sickened from meningitis has risen to 47 from the previously reported 39 (which includes five deaths), the Associated Press reported. The new cases come from Michigan, which is the seventh state to be affected by the outbreak.
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Five people have died and 34 have fallen ill after being infected with a rare form of fungal meningitis, called aspergillus meningitis, from tainted steroid injections for back pain, according to news reports.
ABC News reported that fungus was found in a vial of methylprednisolone acetate, which is the name of the steroid, produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. Three lots of the steroid have since been recalled, the Associated Press reported.
Patients in Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia have developed meningitis from the tainted steroid injections, according to the AP. Seventy five clinics in 23 states that administered the steroid injections to patients are now warning of potential meningitis risk.
So what exactly is aspergillus meningitis? Firstly, it's important to understand that there are several different kinds of meningitis; it can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or "non-infectious" factors like cancer, surgery, drugs or injury. Some forms of meningitis are more dangerous -- and contagious -- than others. For example, viral meningitis is not as dangerous as bacterial meningitis, which requires immediate hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bacterial meningitis can be contagious, but it's usually not as easily transmissible as something like a cold or the flu, the CDC reported. Viral meningitis is also contagious, but fungal meningitis -- like aspergillus meningitis -- is not contagious from person to person.
Aspergillus is "around all of us, all the time," Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told The Tennessean. "It lives in vegetation and it particularly likes damp, moldy leaves, so it’s particularly pertinent this type of year."
Even though aspergillus isn't really known for making people sick, it is able to "cause an illness in immunocompromised people," he added.
The Associated Press reported that each year, aspergillus infections may only affect one to two people out of every 100,000.
Meningitis itself is a condition where the tissues surrounding the brain and meninges (spinal cord) become inflamed, according to the CDC. Most cases of fungal meningitis come from breathing in spores from a yeast called Cryptococcus neoformans, but other fungi is able to cause the condition as well.
Dr. Ben Park, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR that while signs of other kinds of meningitis occur quickly, symptoms of fungal meningitis may be more slow to appear -- incubation time may be up to four weeks long. Symptoms may include headache, feeling nausea, numbness, having a stiff neck, weakness and problems speaking, NPR reported.
Antifungal medications are used to treat fungal meningitis, according to the CDC.