Hospital treatment has begun for the first person in South Carolina diagnosed with a probable case of fungal meningitis linked to spinal injection of a tainted steroid, a state health official said today.

Powerful anti-fungal medicines are being administered. Results of lab tests to confirm the presence of the disease are not expected for several days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated in a recent advisory that the national outbreak of fungal meningitis is uncharted medical territory. Never before has the brown-black mold Exserohilum rostratum been found to cause the potentially deadly illness. It has been detected in unopened vials of the tainted steroid made by New England Compounding Center, and it has been confirmed in fungal meningitis patients.

“These fungi are common in the environment but were not a recognized cause of meningitis prior to this outbreak,” according to the CDC.

CDC guideline suggests a minimum of three months of treatment with anti-fungal drugs, which have risks to the patient of possible liver or kidney damage. The optimal length of treatment is unknown and likely will vary substantially from patient to patient.

Dr. Linda Bell, interim state epidemiologist, said nearly 14,000 people are at risk nationwide because of potentially contaminated steroid injections given this year between May 21 and Sept. 26.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control officials participated in a conference call today with the CDC and other affected states to discuss the outbreak, said DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley.

“We informed them that we have a probable case,” Beasley said.

Read more in tomorrow’s print edition.