Friday, October 24, 2014 · 4:32 a.m.
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Sen. Lamar Alexander at the Anderson County Reagan Day Dinner. (Photo: Staff)

Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Thursday he will continue seeking answers regarding a national outbreak of fungal meningitis at a Senate hearing next week. 

Alexander, who will likely be the ranking Republican member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next year, issued a statement saying he hoped senators would be able to get to the bottom of the cause of the outbreak and recommend ways to make certain it would never happen again.

The outbreak, traced to a compounding center in Boston, has been linked to 425 sicknesses and 31 deaths across the country—with 13 of those deaths occurring in Tennessee. 

The death toll in Tennessee is the highest of any state in the country.

"This hearing is an important step to learning as much as we can about this tragic outbreak so that we can ensure that it never happens again," Alexander said. "Tennessee officials identified the outbreak and responded quickly to the cases in our state, and I'm asking for their insights to help legislators in our next step." 

Alexander asked that representatives from the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy, the Tennessee Pharmacists Association, the Tennessee Medical Association, the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners to submit testimony regarding the issue. 

The hearing is Nov. 15.

It has been 42 days since the outbreak of fungal meningitis was first reported. According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three lots of contaminated, preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate—a product used in steroid injections—were distributed to 23 states, exposing 14,000 patients. 

The drugs were recalled Sept. 26, leading the CDC to estimate that the period for the highest risk of infections will come to a close in early November. Tennessee recently established a health hotline for people concerned about the outbreak. 

The number is 1-855-CRISIS-1 or 1-855-274-7471.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Fungal meningitis is a form of meningitis that is caused by fungal infection.

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