OCALA, Fla. — Vilinda York lies in her Florida hospital bed, facing a dry-erase board that lists in green marker her name, her four doctors and a smiley face.
Also on the board is this: “Anticipated date of discharge: NOT YET DETERMINED.”
The 64-year-old contracted fungal meningitis after receiving three tainted steroid shots in her back. She’s one of 284 people nationwide who are victims of an outbreak that began when a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy shipped contaminated medication. Twenty-three people have died.
Like many trying to recover, York, who has been hospitalized since Sept. 27, faces a long and uncertain road. Many people have died days or even weeks after being hospitalized. Fungal meningitis — which is not contagious — is a tenacious disease that can be treated only with powerful drugs.
“I’m determined I’m going to fight this thing,” she said. “The devil is not going to win.”
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist who chairs Vanderbilt University’s Department of Preventive Medicine, said the treatment includes intravenous anti-fungal medicines that are tricky to use.
“These are powerful drugs. They’re toxic,” he said. “You’re walking a tightrope because you want to get enough into a patient to have the therapeutic effect while at the same time you’re trying not to affect, or to minimize the effect on the liver and kidneys.”
Even after leaving the hospital, he said, patients will continue antifungal drugs for weeks or months.
The infectious disease doctor handling York’s case did not immediately respond to a phone message.
When York talks about the last six weeks, tears run down her cheeks. She knows the disease is deadly. And if she needed a reminder, it’s right there in the headline from a local newspaper on her hospital bed: “Third death reported in Marion County from fungal meningitis.”