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U.S. says death toll rises to 23 in meningitis outbreak

Aspergillus, a type of fungi, is seen in this handout image from the Centres for Disease Control, October 13, 2012. REUTERS/Centres for Dise
Aspergillus, a type of fungi, is seen in this handout image from the Centres for Disease Control, October 13, 2012. REUTERS/Centres for Dise

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. death toll from fungal meningitis linked to potentially contaminated steroid injections has risen by two to 23, with North Carolina reporting its first death, health officials said on Saturday.

Tennessee's death total in the outbreak rose to eight, the highest state total, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website.

States reported 13 new cases of fungal meningitis, raising the total to 281. There are also three peripheral infections caused by injections into joints.

The outbreak stems from medications shipped by the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Massachusetts. The company faces federal and state investigations and lawsuits over the tainted medications.

Indiana and New Hampshire reported two new cases apiece. Virginia, Tennessee and New Jersey each had three new cases, the CDC said.

Health regulators confirmed on Thursday the presence of the deadly Exserohilum fungus in vials of the NECC steroid used for pain injections. They estimate that as many as 14,000 people may have been exposed to the contaminated medication.

NECC and its executives face a civil suit in Massachusetts that seeks to freeze the officers' personal assets. Florida, which has had three deaths and 17 cases, has barred NECC from doing business in the state.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Beech)

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