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Dreyzehner will discuss state response to fungal meningitis outbreak

JOHNSON CITY (April 22, 2013) – Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner of health for Tennessee, will discuss the state’s response to a deadly outbreak of fungal infections in late 2012 when he visits East Tennessee State University as part of the Leading Voices in Public Health Lecture Series Thursday, April 25.

Tennessee’s response to the epidemic has been referred to as a “textbook case” of how to manage a public health crisis. Dreyzehner will deliver his talk, “View from the Epicenter of an Evolving Public Health Crisis: Lessons Learned from the Multistate Fungal Meningitis Outbreak,” in the second floor ballroom of the Millennium Centre at 7 p.m. Leading Voices lectures, which are sponsored by the ETSU College of Public Health, are free and open to the public.

Seven hundred thirty-three cases of fungal meningitis associated with a contaminated medication, methylprednisolone acetate, were reported in 20 states. Tennessee was the first state to identify the infection and currently has 152 cases, putting it at the epicenter. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called it “the largest outbreak of healthcare associated infections in the United States.”

The Tennessee Department of Health employed an interdisciplinary team that identified the fungal infection, which was traced to the contaminated drug made by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts.

A USA Today story noted that “quick work of Tennessee disease detectives kept the outbreak from affecting more patients in the state.” In that story, Paul Jarris, the executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, called the Volunteer State’s response a “textbook case of how to do it right.”

“By the time we learned this was a problem around the country, the information from Tennessee had already narrowed it down to what the problem was,” Jarris told USA Today. “Imagine how frightening it would have been if 23 states had a meningitis outbreak and we didn’t know what caused it.”

Although the greatest risk for exposed patients has passed, the Department of Health reported another patient death last week from complications related to fungal infection, the first in four months. The department said in a statement that it can confirm 15 people have now died following injections received at three care facilities in Tennessee.

Dreyzehner is a familiar face to the region. He served nine years as a regional health department director in Southwest Virginia and is a longtime adjunct faculty member in the College of Public Health. Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the college, said Dreyzehner’s insights in the Leading Voices lecture will be valuable to many.

“Commissioner Dreyzehner’s perspective on the fungal infections epidemic and his interpretations of the ‘lessons learned’ will be of interest to anyone who works in health care, and they are vitally important to all public health professionals,” Wykoff said.

 This Leading Voices lecture is co-sponsored by the ETSU Public Health Student Association and LIFEPATH-Tennessee Public Health Training Center. For more information or to request special assistance for those with disabilities, call (423) 439-4597 or e-mail . The lecture will be streamed live at http://elearning.etsu.edu/publichealthlive.htm