Local News

Fungal meningitis kills North Carolina woman

Posted October 20, 2012 5:16 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2012 7:42 p.m. EDT

—  A 77-year-old Davidson County woman is the first person to die in North Carolina from fungal meningitis likely contracted from a tainted steroid injection in her back.

The Davidson County resident died Friday, state Health Director Laura Gerald said.

Gerald refused to identify the person, but the family of Elwina Shaw, of Denton, told reporters she was sick with debilitating headaches for more than a month before health officials realized what was wrong.

Shaw was at High Point Regional Health System nearly four weeks before she died. Her family said she likely got fungal meningitis from a third steroid injection for back pain she received in late August at High Point Surgery Center.

The death is the first in North Carolina from the outbreak that began when a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy shipped contaminated medication. One other fungal meningitis case has been found in the state from the tainted drugs, and that person is recovering out of the hospital, Gerald said. Twenty-three people have died, and nearly 300 have been sickened across the nation.

Shaw's family said they wanted to talk to reporters about her death because they want officials to take steps to make sure an outbreak like this never happens again.

"The government needs to intervene," Shaw's daughter Dawn Frank said. "We have the best medical care in the world."

Three clinics in North Carolina received the tainted drugs from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. Health officials said anyone who received a steroid injection from the clinics has been notified.

Shaw's family said other than back pain, she was in good health for her age. She was taking the steroid injections to get ready for surgery on a herniated disk.

Then came the excruciating headaches than made it impossible for Shaw to do anything. After she was hospitalized, she had two strokes, her family said.

Watching her suffer "was the most agonizing thing of my life," said Shaw's 80-year-old husband, Rex.

He met his future wife in Denton when both were teenagers. He married the woman he called Effie after he returned from a stint in Korea with the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Five years ago, their home burned down, destroying souvenirs and photographs from decades they spent traveling the world.

"We've been through a lot," Rex Shaw said. "But this — this with Effie has just left me as a shell."