The deadly fungal meningitis outbreak that killed at least 53 Americans and made 733 ill in the past year will soon be investigated by a Michigan grand jury. The outbreak was caused by steroid injections tainted with the fungus Exserohilum rostratum, which came from the now-defunct pharmaceutical company New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Massachusetts. The injections were meant to treat back and joint pain, but ended up causing terrible damage.
The moldy medicine was shipped to patients and health care facilities around the country, leading to a national outbreak that hit Michigan the hardest -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) count 259 cases and 15 deaths from fungal meningitis in that state alone, and Michigan health officials have reported a 16th death.
According to Interlochen Public Radio, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed to a grand jury investigation earlier today, after Attorney General Bill Schuette requested one last month to discern whether any state laws were broken by NECC in connection with the meningitis outbreak.
The jury will last for at least six months, says MLive, and will consist of 13 representatives from each of the four Michigan counties to which the tainted steroid injections were delivered: Grand Traverse, Livingston, Genesee, and Macomb counties.
"As a former judge, I know the court made this decision in a thoughtful, deliberative, and thorough manner," Schuette said in a statement about the Court's decision.
"This was a horrific tragedy where Michigan citizens seeking pain relief contracted damaging meningitis infections, or even worse, lost their lives. The people of Michigan deserve answers. We will find the truth."
Meningitis is causes by an inflammation and wearing down of the meninges, the membranes that insulate the nervous system. The disease is typically caused by contagious bacteria or viruses, but this fungal meningitis is not transmitted from person to person. Exserohilum rostratum is a common mold in soil and plants, and rarely causes illness in people. The tainted steroid injections made the fungus especially deadly because they directly transmitted it into the systems of vulnerable people.
Earlier this week, the United States congressional Energy and Commerce Committee on Oversight and Investigations released a majority staff report claiming that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) missed many opportunities to protect American citizens from the tainted steroid injections, and could have limited the scope of the fungal meningitis outbreak.
The CDC maintains regular updates about the state of the fungal meningitis outbreak.