A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a Maryland hospital was temporarily shut down earlier this month after staff found a potentially deadly bacteria.
Nine infants were transferred from Maryland’s Prince George’s Hospital Center to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. after nasal swabs taken from three babies tested positive for the pseudomonas bacteria.
Although none of the babies who tested positive showed symptoms of illness, the discovery of the bacteria followed two recent deaths in the NICU. In addition, the bacteria was found in water pipes near the NICU. The two deaths are still under investigation.
“To date, we have no data that says there is a relationship between the deaths of those infants and this bacterium,” according to a hospital administrator.
The bacteria is “found widely in the environment,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can attack those with weakened immune systems, especially “patients in hospitals, … on breathing machines, those with devices such as catheters, and patients with wounds from surgery or from burns are potentially at risk for serious, life-threatening infections.”
Patients can fall ill from drinking water that contains the bacteria, or like other potentially deadly bacteria such as MRSA, pseudomonas can spread on the hands of hospital staff and by equipment that is contaminated and is not sterilized. The bacteria also have been known to colonize in incubators that have been washed using non-sterile water. The infants in those incubators “are inhaling pseudomonas,” an expert says.
Pseudomonas infections are generally treated with antibiotics. However, in hospitalized patients because of increasing antibiotic resistance, pseudomonas infections are becoming more difficult to treat.
It is not the first time pseudomonas has been found in a Maryland NICU. In 1984, three premature babies at the University of Maryland Hospital were killed by pseudomonas and several others became ill. Staff blamed the infection on faulty sterilization. Investigators found three strains of pseudomonas aeruginosa in the NICU and on equipment.
Roughly 400 deaths per year are attributed to pseudomonas aeruginosa infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 51,000 healthcare-associated pseudomonas aeruginosa infections occur in the United States annually. About 13 percent — or more than 6,000 — of these are multidrug-resistant.
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