Tallahassee, Florida - The number of deaths and illnesses in Florida from the fungal meningitis outbreak continues to rise.
The tainted drugs used in injections have killed two people and sickened at least nine, all in Marion County.
But, Dr. Carina Blackmore of the Florida Department of Health says those cases representthe tip of the iceberg.
"For any outbreak, the numbers that are reported are just the tip of the iceberg because we use very specific criteria to track cases and only cases that meet those specific criteria are tracked. We believe we miss a lot of cases but that's the method that we use."
The Florida Department of Health reports it is aware of 775 people who received the contaminated injections at six clinics over the summer. Dr. Blackmore says the department has been able to contact 96 percent of those patients.
The department and local clinics continue their efforts to reach everyone who received the shots. Health officials are making phone calls, sending letters and visiting homes to contact the patients.
Dr. Blackmore is urging people who received the questionable injection to contact a doctor, even if they have experienced few or no symptoms.
"The incubation period of this illness can be very long. We don't knowfor sure how long. We know that we have people that have had incubation periods of six weeks so we believe that's it's really important that these patients stay in touch with a doctor, just in case they will develop a severe infection later."
Dr. Blackmore says the Department of Health and Federal Drug Administration is making sure all of the tainted drugs have been removed from shelves and sent to the FDA.
She says it's hard to predict how long the outbreak will last.
"We really don't know how long this outbreak will go on because it is such a unique, rare infection. So we're still learning, working with the other states and the CDC about this infection, how long the incubation period is, what the main risk factors are. So all that information is being gathered as we're going along and as we get further into this outbreak we will be better able to define the duration of the outbreak and the scope of the outbreak."
This illness is not contagious.
Nationally, there have been 14 deaths and 170 confirmed cases in 11 states.
Florida has set up a toll-free hotline for anyone with questions about the outbreak. Call 1-866-523-7339.