Rare infection may be tied to three upstate hospital deaths

Greenville NewsJune 27, 2014 

THE STATE

A rare infection linked to surgical equipment at Greenville Memorial Hospital may have played a role in the deaths of three patients, officials said Thursday.

A total of 15 patients have tested positive for the infection, including one more this week, officials said.

All three patients who died suffered from other serious medical conditions, but the infection may have contributed to their deaths, said Dr. Robert Mobley Jr., medical director of quality at Greenville Health System.

“We regret that any patient within our care could possibly be affected by this situation,” he said. “Our thoughts are with those involved. Our ongoing priority will be to monitor these and other patients for continued safe and effective care.”

Officials confirmed last Friday that atypical Mycobacterium abscessus had been found in 14 patients. Most had undergone cardiac surgery, while two had abdominal surgery and one a neurological operation.

The first patient recognized to have the infection tested positive in March.

Mycobacterium’s long incubation period of up to two months complicated the situation because some of the patients had no signs of infection until months after their operations, officials said.

Six of the infected patients are being treated at home, while another six are in the hospital or at another long-term care facility, officials said.

While a piece of surgical equipment has been implicated in the infection, an investigation into the source of the bacteria continues and includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Officials said they weren’t aware of any breaks in sterility protocols.

The equipment, which wasn’t identified, was removed from the operating room along with any other equipment that may have been involved, officials said.

And the operating room in question was closed temporarily but should re-open in a few weeks, officials said.

Mycobacteria are found in water, soil and elsewhere in the natural environment. But Mycobacterium abscessus has been known to contaminate medications and medical devices, the CDC reports.

Hospital-acquired infections usually affect the skin and the soft tissues, though it can also cause serious lung infections in people with chronic lung disease, according to the agency. There is little risk of transmission between people, the CDC reports.

People with existing medical conditions undergoing surgical procedures are more susceptible to the infection, GHS officials said. And most of the affected patients got infections in their surgical wounds and are being treated with multiple antibiotics, officials said.

While the first infection was traced back to March, patients from as far back as 18 months were checked once the discovery was made, officials said. All patients who have tested positive are being notified, they said.

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