UI preps for future meningitis outbreaks


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University of Iowa pharmacists believe it’s their job to inform and prepare students for future infectious outbreaks.

The University of Iowa College of Pharmacy hosted an event Thursday covering the fungal meningitis outbreak last fall to educate future pharmacists on practices that led to it.

“The faculty feel that we’re educating pharmacists in this entire state — and the students who leave the state — but we’re the people responsible to make sure they have the ability to learn and practice and do the things for patients,” said Maureen Donovan, the division head for the pharmaceutical sciences. “We’re responsible for the students of Iowa.”

Last year’s outbreak followed injections of medications made by a compounding pharmacy.

Compounding — a process in which pharmacists specialize products for patients’ particular needs — is practiced in Iowa but is a difficult aspect of pharmacy to master.

Patients in various states received steroid injections that were contaminated for various reasons.
The multi-state fungal meningitis outbreak has not hit Iowa — but neighboring Minnesota and Illinois have seen 12 and two cases, respectively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that by Jan. 14, approximately 680 cases had been identified, resulting in 44 deaths.

“Sadly, it is an unprecedented epidemic. It’s a very difficult infection to treat,” said Jeff Reist, a UI clinical assistant professor of pharmacy. “I think as pharmacists, when you hear about this, you think, ‘How can this happen?’ ”

The pharmacy school invited guest speakers from the UI to speak to the students on issues relating to the outbreak, including pharmaceutical manufacturing and compounding.

The pharmacy school is represented in 95 of the 99 counties in Iowa, making it a leading pharmacy school. This leadership pushed the college to inform the students about the outbreak. The event hosted roughly 50 percent of the pharmacy school’s student population, along with several faculty members and guests.

“It’s a correct response to making this matter extremely important in our students’ eyes and try to figure out — how did this happen, and we’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen in Iowa,” said Barbara Kelley, the strategic communications director for the pharmacy school.

While Iowa hasn’t been affected, Johnson County officials see this step by the UI as positive preventative move.

Currently, the county has taken minimal precautions. The first step for officials following the outbreak was to inform pharmacists — something manufacturers do immediately when pharmaceuticals are recalled. The initial recall took place in October 2012.

“All that we did was make sure we worked with our pharmacists and made sure they knew about the recall,” said Tricia Kitzmann, the deputy director of Johnson County Public Health. ”We just make sure that information is passed on when we become aware.”

While Iowa has reported no cases of this noncontagious outbreak, officials say the education provided by the pharmacy school will help the state.

“I think anytime there is time spent on education, it benefits the population,” Kitzmann said. “I think it just would be part of a quality improvement.”

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