Doctor calls for more regulation amid deadly meningitis outbreak

This undated photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a branch of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. The fungus blamed for causing a meningitis outbreak in nine states is widely distributed indoors and outdoors, but only very rarely makes people sick. People inhale aspergillus fungus all the time without any problem. It's nearly impossible to avoid, found in such places as decaying leaves, trees, grain, other plants, soil, household dust, ducts for air conditioning and heating, and building materials. The fungus can also cause skin infections if it enters a break in the skin. The meningitis outbreak is linked to the fungus being accidentally injected into people as a contaminant in steroid treatments.
AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Libero Ajello

(CBS News) Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, wants to see more government regulation of so-called "compounding pharmacies" amid an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has spread to nine states. Seven patients have died out of the 91 reported cases of the disease.

All the cases are connected to a steroid distributed by a Massachusetts pharmacy. That pharmacy is now recalling all of its products as a precaution.

A compounding pharmacy, Schaffner explained Monday on "CBS This Morning," is different from major pharmaceutical manufacturers in that it takes medications and sets them up for highly specialized uses, and then sells them to pain clinics and other medical facilities.

There are 7,500 compounding pharmacies in the U.S., with $3 billion in sales, representing 3 percent of prescriptions filled, according to the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists.

"They are not regulated the way the major pharmaceutical companies are,"  Schaffner said. "They seem to have fallen into a regulatory gap. That's something that really needs to be addressed by the Congress."

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Asked what he fears most in the outbreak, Schaffner said, "I fear that we will continue to have more cases going on into the future from this tainted lot. This will take us a while to determine that. But I really think that going forward we need to have a regulatory structure that doesn't permit this to happen."

For more with Schaffner on "CBS This Morning," including his advice on what to do if you've recently been treated with these types of injections, watch the video in the player above.