MARION COUNTY, Fla. – A deadly fungal meningitis outbreak is now being blamed for claiming the life of a Marion County man. According to the Florida Department of Health, the 70-year-old victim died in July after receiving a steroid shot from Florida Pain Clinic in Ocala.
That death brings the total number of cases in Florida to six. All the Florida cases are from Marion County. The other five patients who are now being treated for fungal meningitis all received their shots from Marion Pain Management Center in Ocala.
Two other facilities in Central Florida also received shipments of the contaminated medication: Surgery Center of Ocala and Orlando Center for Outpatient Surgery in Orlando.
Nationwide, there are now 119 confirmed cases of fungal meningitis, including 11 deaths.
Investigators said as many as 13,000 people may have received the fungus-contaminated steroid shots nationwide, including more than 1,100 people in Florida.
Dr. Stephen Pyles runs Florida Pain Clinic, where the 70-year-old man who died received the medication. Dr. Pyles told WKMG_TV, he's been treating patients for 26 years and has never seen anything like this and is heartbroken.
Doug Koehn, 78, also received a shot of the contaminated steroid from Dr. Pyles.
"It's startling," said Koehn. "It's like saying a bomb blew up in your backyard."
Koehn said he got the startling call from his doctor just days after getting a spinal shot for back pain. Instead of doing what he loves, working in the garden with his dog, Gretchen, he was told to go to the hospital immediately.
"And they took all kinds of blood tests and blood and MRIs and a brain scan," said Koehn.
Koehn was tested for fungal meningitis after being injected with the now recalled steroid. The FDA and CDC said it appears tainted doses of methylprednisolone acetate were made at a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. Koehn said compounding pharmacies should have better oversight.
"The FDA and the CDC have no control over what these people do," said Koehn. "I mean as far as they're concerned, they could put milk in a vial and give it to you."
In fact, the pharmacy shipped out some 17,000 vials of the contaminated medication as early as May.
Unlike bacterial or viral meningitis, fungal meningitis is not contagious, but it's extremely deadly and tough to treat.
So far, all of Koehn's tests have come back negative, but he says lesson learned, he won't be getting any more spinal shots and is even leery of vitamins without knowing for sure where they came from.
"It makes you aware of life and how fragile it is," said Koehn.
By now, all patients who received the medication should have been contacted by their doctor. It can take up to four weeks for meningitis symptoms to appear. If patients who received the contaminated medication feel symptoms such as headache, sore neck or feeling nauseous, they should call their doctor immediately.