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October 10. 2012 11:57PM

NH keeps close eye on meningitis risk

New Hampshire Public Health Director Jose Montero said the state is closely monitoring patients who received injections of a tainted steroid that can trigger fungal meningitis.

“We ask them if they have any symptoms compatible with meningitis or strokes, which is one of the things that makes this more complicated,” Montero said. “This is not your classic meningitis at all, so that complicates this dramatically.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 138 cases of the rare form of meningitis in 11 states, with Idaho joining the list Wednesday. At least 12 people have died of the illness, which is not contagious. New Hampshire has had no confirmed cases, Montero said.

A total of 742 clients of PainCare LLC clinics in Merrimack, Somersworth and Newington received doses of the tainted methylprednisolone, which was distributed by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass.

“We’re just really confused and concerned and nervous,” said Ruth Lamarche, whose husband, Bob, received an injection before the Sept. 25, recall.

Bob Lamarche, 57, a delivery driver for the New Hampshire Union Leader, said he has been experiencing short-term memory loss and a stiff neck in the last few weeks. The New Boston family received a call from PainCare LLC telling Lamarche he received a tainted dose.

“I just want this to be over with,” Bob Lamarche said.

He underwent a spinal-tap test Tuesday at the PainCare clinic in Merrimack, where he was treated.

Ruth Lamarche said the initial results show no signs of the disease. It could take up to two weeks to get final results.

Michael O’Connell, CEO of PainCare, said staff members are working overtime to cooperate with state and federal officials. By Wednesday, all but 50 patients had been contacted and evaluated for symptoms of meningitis, he said.

“We’re on guard and expecting there to be some cases,” O’Connell said. “How can we avoid it?”

Patients who received injections in joints rather than into the central nervous system through the spine have the lowest risk — “possibly no risk” — of contracting meningitis, O’Connell said. The medication is commonly used to treat back pain.

Meningitis strikes the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include a high fever, severe headaches, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, according to CDC’s website.

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Doug Alden may be reached at dalden@unionleader.com. New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent John Quinn (dalden@unionleader.com) contributed to this report.


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