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Risk of more meningitis cases declines, but not over

None of the fungal meningitis cases involving tainted steroids from New England Compounding have taken longer than six weeks, from the time of injection, to diagnose. So, state and federal officials might have breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday, which marked six weeks from the day drugs produced at the Framingham pharmacy were recalled and public health officials began collecting products leftover in physician’s offices.

But they didn’t. Fungal meningitis cases like those resulting from the steroid -- as of Friday there were at least 428, including 32 deaths -- are rare, and public health officials are learning as they go.

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“We don’t know the ultimate incubation period so anyone that received an injection should continue to be vigilant,” Curtis Allen, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week. “The risk is less now that we’re six weeks out, but it’s not zero. And we don’t know the risk going forward.”

It could be months before the risk of infection is truly gone, Allen said. “We do know the longer the time frame from injection, the lesser the risk.”

In New Hampshire it is not clear which patients among 751 treated with methylprednisolone at pain care centers in Merrimack and Somersworth received the tainted steroid, said Dr. José Montero, the state’s public health director. Thirteen people are confirmed to be affected, including four with peripheral joint infections and the rest with meningitis. Montero said last week that there were more who have had some symptoms and are being closely monitored.

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State officials continue to have daily conference calls with physicians tracking cases.

“We are having less and less cases, which is expected,” Montero said. “When can we say, we saw them all? I don’t know.”

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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