Columbus woman awaits result of meningitis test


For the first time, we're hearing from an Indiana woman who may have been exposed to the fungal meningitis outbreak, linked to a tainted steroid.

It's become a serious threat. The number of confirmed cases of fungal meningitis has risen to 119 in ten states. 12 of those cases are confirmed in Indiana.

There have been 11 deaths, but none so far in Indiana.

Columbus resident Jennifer Hayes is awaiting confirmation that she doesn't have the disease.

Tuesday afternoon, Hayes was waiting for a phone call that could change her life. "It's scary. Very scary. I'm waiting...just waiting," Hayes said.

"You know, the numbers just keep going up and that just scares me more," she said.

She's scared that she could become the latest victim to develop fungal meningitis from a tainted steroid. She got a letter from her doctor, saying she's at risk.

Tuesday night, she received initial test results, indicating she is not infected. But Hayes still has to wait for what doctors call a two-week incubation period to make sure.

"I never thought that anything like this would happen at all," Hayes said.

She received her first epidural steroid injection in July from Wellspring Pain Solutions in Columbus. It was to ease pain from degenerative disc disease and two herniated discs.

"It worked for a little while and then I had pain going down the other side too, so I went back on the 10th of September and got the other one," Hayes said.

But after that second injection, Hayes developed unexpected symptoms, including severe headaches.

"The headaches were to the point that I was in bed all day and then the nausea and vomiting and really sensitive to light," she explained.

When she learned those same symptoms were linked to a fungal meningitis outbreak, traced to The New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts, Jennifer went straight to the ER in Columbus.

Eventually, she was put through a series of tests to check for the disease. "I had blood work and then a cat scan and then the spinal tap," she said.

Hayes is one of 1,577 Indiana patients injected with possibly contaminated steroids, in the back and even other joints.

While those injected in their spine are at highest risk, health experts say all are at risk of infection.

In fact, state health leaders expect the number of fungal meningitis cases in Indiana to go up as more people get tested.

"Right now, this is still a very active ongoing investigation," said state epidemiologist Pam Patones. "Whether it was through an epidural injection or from some other injection we want those people to know their risks and if they develop symptoms of any kind beyond what they'd normally see, we want them to contact their health care provider right away,"

Hayes, a mother of three children, is now painfully aware of her own risk. She now hopes those preliminary negative test results stay that way.

"I'm still going to be worried for two weeks, waiting to see if (the final test result) comes back negative too."

There is an added consequence to this crisis. Since the Massachusetts pharmacy recalled its steroids and shut down production, there's now a short supply of medicine used to treat serious pain for millions of Americans.