Fifteen people have died as a result of the rare form of meningitis as patients move to sue Massachusetts compounder

The number of cases of a deadly fungal meningitis thought caused by contaminated steroid shots prepared by a pharmacy compounder in Massachusetts has risen above the 200 mark, health officials confirmed Sunday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the 205 patients are known to have contacted the illness, up eight on the previous day.

At least 15 people have died as a result of the rare form of meningitis, with 14 states now drawn in to the growing national health scare.

The outbreak has been traced to batches of methylprednisolone acetate – a steroid used commonly to ease back pain – that were prepared by the New England Compounding Center (NECC) and shipped to 76 clinics in 23 states between July to September.

Investigators from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visiting the Massachusetts pharmacy compounder found a fungal contaminate in a sealed vial. They also found a "foreign material" in another, opened container.

It has since emerged that the pharmacy compounder has a checkered history and has been cited in the past for health and safety violations. Questions have also been asked over the regulation of the company by state authorities.

Despite NECC's documented failings, clinics from across the US were able to order close to 18,000 doses of the steroid, prompting a large scale search for all those injected after the contamination came to light.

On Thursday a woman from Minnesota became the first patient to sue NECC. The class action alleges that the NECC sale of "defective and dangerously contaminated" steroid shots, that caused "bodily harm, emotional distress and other personal injuries".

© Guardian News and Media 2012