One dead, three others infected with meningitis

The Associated Press
Saturday June 09, 2001

MARTINEZ — Contra Costa County health officials ordered a recall Friday of certain medications following one man’s death and the infection of three others with a non-contagious form of meningitis. 

Doctors and other health-care providers who purchased injectable medication prepared by Doc’s Pharmacy in Walnut Creek were asked to immediately stop using the medication. 

The recall also includes opthalmics, or medications administered to the mucus membrane of the eye, that were purchased from Doc’s Pharmacy. 

Wendel Brunner, director of the county’s public health service, said officials ordered the precautionary recall because a batch of the steroid beta methasone prepared in mid-May by Doc’s Pharmacy was contaminated with bacteria. 

George Stahl, 47, of Concord, died from the infection on May 30, 24 hours after receiving a shot for lower back pain. An elderly man who received a shot May 31 also died within the last week, though doctors are not sure if it was from meningitis. Seven others have been hospitalized – six at John Muir Medical Center, spokeswoman Patricia Hefner said. 

Three are confirmed to have the meningitis, another two have symptoms but their problem is not yet known and one has a different blood infection, Hefner said. 

The seventh person was hospitalized at San Ramon Regional Medical Center with an undiagnosed infection. 

The bacteria is common and is only dangerous when it gets into the bloodstream or spinal fluid. 

“What’s fine on the hands, in the mouth and in the stomach could be deadly when injected into spinal fluid,” Brunner said. 

Robert Horwitz, a Doc’s pharmacist, told the Contra Costa Times that the pharmacy is being made a scapegoat. 

The Sierra Surgery Center in Concord, where the four people became infected with bacteria as a result of the injections, referred questions to attorney Rich Conti. 

“All I understand is the organism or bacteria they think is there has nothing to do with sterile techniques or anything (the doctor) would have done,” Conti told the Contra Costa Times. 

“Other than that, the issue is unknown as to why these people have gotten sick,” Conti said. “They received the same medication on the same day and that raises questions that need to be answered. The doctor is quite confident he did what he always does and followed sterile technique and is waiting to hear what happened.” 

This form of meningitis is not related to meningococcal meningitis — the contagious form of the illness transmitted through kissing, sharing drinks or other close contact — that is blamed for the recent deaths of two people in the Bay Area.