DETROIT — William Wertz wonders whether the fungus will attack his body again, and what it would feel like to die.
“If I have fungal meningitis, how would my body shut down?” said the 68-year-old Howell, Mich., man.
“They told me there's no guarantee that it's not going to be back.”
Wertz is among the hundreds of patients devastated by a deadly national fungal meningitis outbreak that exploded last fall and was caused by steroid injections that came tainted with fungus from a Massachusetts pharmacy.
One year later, people are still suffering health problems linked to the tainted shots and the powerful antifungal medicine needed to save their lives.
Investigations and litigation connected to the outbreak are ongoing, as are efforts to strengthen regulation of the type of pharmacy responsible for the crisis. Health experts say more people could fall ill.
For patients, questions still linger: How did this happen? Why were some toxic shots injected after being recalled? Will I get sick again?
Nationwide, there have been 750 illnesses and 64 deaths.
Wertz got meningitis and then an infection at the injection site from the shot he took for thigh pain. He was hospitalized twice last fall at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, which has treated 195 people sickened in the outbreak, more than any other facility in the country.
Today, about two-thirds of those patients are off antifungal drugs but still being monitored, said Dr. David Vandenberg. A quarter of the patients with the most serious infections had yearlong treatment plans to begin with and are still on antifungal medicine.
About a dozen people have responded poorly to treatment or relapsed.
“I don't think we're in any position yet to say anybody who's been diagnosed and treated for this is in the clear,” Vandenberg said.
The main fungus associated with the outbreak, Exserohilum rostratum, grows slowly and has caused diseases that are difficult to treat.
The outbreak began to unfold in late summer 2012 in Tennessee when a doctor found fungus in the spinal fluid of a sick man who had previously gotten epidural steroid injections. An investigation traced the fungus and link back to one place — the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.