By James Paladino/ ( | First Posted: Dec 22, 2012 02:11 AM EST

The current case count state-by-state as of December 22 (Photo : CDC)

The National Meningitis Outbreak which infected 620 people in 19 states and took 39 lives continues to afflict Americans to this day, but has taken the form of a newly recognized spinal infection, according to

Dr. Varsha Moudgal of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital warns, "People could be walking around with infections and they do not know it. If they are untreated, they will cause pressure and damage to the spinal cord, and the concern then is about losing function."

An official investigation by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) found that the New England Compounding Center was responsible for contaminating a steroid commonly used to relieve back pain known as methylprednisolone acetate. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick revoked the company's license to practice in the state not long after the findings were exposed.

"If the fungus is allowed to grow and thrive, it will infect the nerves in the spine, and that has far more ominous implications for patients," explains St. Joseph Mercy neurosurgeon Dr. Douglas Geiger. reports that the CDC advises doctors to conduct an MRI scan on any patient who was injected with the contaminated steroid.

Fungal meningitis symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, altered mental states, fever, headache, stiff neck, hallucinations, and personality changes. Treatment usually involves prolonged courses of high dose antifungal medications through an IV line, according to the CDC. Treatment length may vary depending on the patient's immune system, lasting months in some cases. Persistent back pain may indicate a separate spinal infection.

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