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Spangenberg Shibley & Liber, LLP | Oct 23, 2012

First Casualty of NECC Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Autopsied

Categories: Brain Injury, Fungal Meningitis, NECC

Doctors at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, have autopsied the first patient to die during the fungal meningitis outbreak and the only one to contract the illness from Aspergillus fumigatus fungus, according to a Los Angeles Times article. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The patient was a 50-year-old man who first visited the hospital complaining of neck pain and a headache.

“Doctors noted that the meninges – the protective membrane encasing the brain and spinal cord – were showing signs of irritation,” Amina Khan reported in the Times.

The patient’s white blood cell count was also much higher than normal, which is the body’s natural reaction when it is under attack. Tests done on the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid came back negative for bacteria, but the patient was sent home with a prescription for drugs that would fight meningitis.

A week later, the patient returned to the hospital with back pain and a headache that had worsened. Doctors measured his white blood cell count again. Anything higher than 5 cells per cubic millimeter is abnormal, according to Khan. The patient’s count was 4,422 per cubic millimeter.

By his sixth day in the hospital, the patient “was experiencing extreme drowsiness and subject to ‘intermittent staring spells,’” Khan reported. It wasn’t until day 7 that doctors detected the Aspergillus.

On his eleventh day in the hospital, the patient was no longer responsive and appeared to be having seizures.

After two weeks in the hospital, the patient’s cerebrum and cerebellum had undergone such extreme damage that there was little chance his brain could ever recover. He was taken off of life support and died on his 22nd day in the hospital.

Doctors are urging patients to seek medical attention immediately if they are experiencing fungal meningitis symptoms.

“If treatment is given early, it is very effective,” said Tennessee Department of Health Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD . “If it is given late, it is not very effective.”