The toll from the outbreak of fungal meningitis tied to contaminated steroid shots that has killed 12 people in the United States was expected to grow on Wednesday, raising pressure for stricter oversight of a largely unregulated corner of the pharmaceutical world.
On Tuesday, four more deaths were reported and Florida became the latest state to report at least one death linked to the illness in a widening health scare.
Since the September 25 recall of three lots of a steroid produced by a Massachusetts company, the outbreak has spread to 10 states and infected 124 people, according to state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leading U.S. House and Senate lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday asked federal health officials for briefings on the outbreak as a first step toward possible legislative action to strengthen federal drug safety regulations.
Oversight committees in both the Senate and House hope to learn more about the outbreak before October 12 from staff members of the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, aides said.
In five states - Tennessee, Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida - the outbreak has claimed lives, with the latest victim a 70-year-old man in Florida.
As many as 13,000 people received the injections to relieve back pain and other complaints and are at risk of infection, the CDC said, although the number ultimately stricken is likely to be far fewer.
For the first time on Tuesday, Tennessee state health officials gave an estimate of the rate of infection among those patients who received injections from the recalled steroid supplies. Approximately 5 percent of patients treated with the suspect medication in Tennessee have contracted meningitis, said Dr. David Reagan, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health.
"We expect that most people who were exposed to this will not develop a fungal infection," Reagan said.