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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Volunteers for America: Tennessee cracks meningitis outbreak with network build on ‘trust’

Recent U.S. Senate hearings on the national meningitis outbreak predictably found plenty of blame to go around, but also underscored the wisdom of investing in public health and clinical partnerships.

“These pre-existing relationships allowed us to respond quickly because we trusted each other,” said Marion Kainer, MD, director of the Healthcare Associated Infections & Antimicrobial Resistance Program at the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) in Nashville.

Kainer was recognized at a Nov 15, 2012 hearing of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for leading an epidemiological investigation that resulted in the nationwide recall of contaminated steroid products distributed by the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, MA. The TDH had access to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources and expertise due to an existing partnership between the department and the agency. Moreover, Kainer had cultivated relationships with infection preventionists and key clinicians as part of the departments HAI prevention efforts.

Alerted by an astute clinician, Kainer rapidly assembled a team of IPs, epidemiologists and other clinical and public health contacts. They essentially solved the mysterious outbreak over 18 long days in September and October, prompting a national recall of NECC products.

“Fungal meningitis is extremely rare. One of our great challenges was knowing just what we were dealing with as more and more patients fell ill,” she said. “Even though we were looking for a fungus -- because the initial patient reported to us had been diagnosed with a fungal meningitis -- none of the diagnostic tests yielded confirmed results until October 3 – fifteen days after we initiated our investigation of the first case.”

For more on this important story see the December 2o12 issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention