Outbreak of Suspected Fungal Meningitis in America

By Gift Briton

The World Health Organization(WHO) has declared an outbreak of suspected fungal meningitis in Mexico and United States. This comes after several cases found to be consistent with the disease were identified among patients with history of surgical procedures performed under spinal anaesthesia in Mexico.

On 11th May 2023, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified five female cases with central nervous system infection (CNSI) in the country. All the cases had a history of undergoing surgical procedures in two private clinics in a city in Mexico, bordering the USA.

By 26th May 2023, at least 20 cases presenting with signs and symptoms compatible with CNSI, including two deaths had been reported by the health authorities from Mexico and the USA. According to WHO fungal meningitis can develop after a fungal infection spread from somewhere else in the body to the central nervous system.

The patients who visited the hospitals presented with symptoms including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and fainting.

Furthermore, laboratory test results from samples collected from patients in the USA and Mexico were consistent with meningitis caused by pathogenic fungi.

WHO note that medical and surgical procedures can lead to fungal meningitis if medical devices or medications are contaminated or if proper infection prevention control practices are not taken.

Although the source, vehicle, and the transmission route for the current outbreak remains unknown, it is suspected to be fungal meningitis infection based on preliminary information provided by the health authorities from Mexico and USA.

With the outbreak’s source yet to be established, WHO has urged Member States to stay vigilant, adding that, “It is critically important for affected Member States to identify any possible cases, establish the causal chain, and determine if any substandard/falsified products or procedures could be related. Investigation of these cases will assist in rapid containment at the disease source to prevent additional suspected cases.”

WHO also recommends the continuation of laboratory analyses, case identification and clinical care, follow-up of potentially exposed people, outbreak investigation to identify the agent, the source, the vehicle, and the transmission route, implementation of measures to prevent further infections, and enhancement of Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures.

“We do not recommend any specific different measures for travellers visiting Mexico. The organization also advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on Mexico and the United States of America based on the current information available on this event,” WHO noted.

However, in case of symptoms suggestive of meningitis during or after travel, travellers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their healthcare provider.

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