GREENVILLE, SC — A rare infection linked to surgical equipment hasn’t been found in any more patients at Greenville Memorial Hospital since last week, officials said Thursday.
All told, 15 patients tested positive for the atypical Mycobacterium abscessus infection, which may have contributed to the deaths of three of them, officials said.
“The infection has been associated with only a few specific types of invasive surgery,” said Dr. Robert Mobley Jr., GHS’s medical director of quality.
“Nonetheless, we believed it was important to notify the community about the infection out of extreme precaution to ensure their safety and to alert them about possible symptoms.”
Most of the patients had undergone cardiac surgery, while two had abdominal surgery and one a neurological operation. The first patient found with the infection tested positive in March.
The surviving patients are still recuperating at home, in the hospital or at another long-term care facility, officials said.
Though an investigation continues with state and federal health agencies, GHS believes the infection stemmed from surgical equipment, which was removed from the operating room along with any other equipment involved, officials said. The operating room in question is still closed but should re-open in a few weeks, officials said.
Mycobacterium abscessus has been known to contaminate medications and medical devices, according to the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While infections usually affect the skin and the soft tissues, it can also cause serious lung infections in people with chronic lung disease.
Patients with the infection usually experience redness and drainage around the incision as well as fever or chills, GHS officials said. People with underlying medical conditions are more susceptible.
“The overwhelming majority of surgical patients treated at Greenville Memorial will not be affected by this rare mycobacterial infection,” Mobley said, “and we apologize for any fear that we may have caused in the broader community or patients.”
Jim Beasley of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said, “Our investigation is ongoing. We are communicating regularly with Greenville Health System for updates and discussing effective control measures. Together with the CDC, we are formalizing preventive recommendations that have been verbally discussed with the hospital's infection control staff. Many of those recommendations have already been implemented.”