12 children infected with rare bacteria during heart surgery at New Orleans hospital

At least twelve children were infected with a rare bacteria during heart surgery at Children's Hospital in New Orleans this summer, hospital officials said this week. Photo by torwaiphoto/Shutterstock

Sept. 13 (UPI) — At least 12 children who had heart surgery at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans earlier this summer were infected with a rare type of bacteria found in water, soil and dust, hospital officials said this month.

The bacteria, mycobacterium abcessus, was found on equipment used in the operating room. The children have been hospitalized since getting the infection and some are “very close to going home,” said John F. Heaton, the senior vice president and chief medical officer of the hospital, reported the New Orleans Advocate.

But there could be dozens of other patients who have been potentially infected and they have been urged to come into the hospital for an evaluation.

“Our investigation indicates that the risk appears to be limited to patients cared for in one operating room when a specific piece of equipment was used,” hospital officials said in a statement obtained by WDSU. “This room has been terminally disinfected, and our ongoing environmental surveillance of the operating rooms has not shown any contamination with the organism beyond the involved device. We do not believe that patients that were treated in other operating rooms or other areas of the hospital are at risk for this infection from past or future care.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mycobacterium abcessus is a bacterium distantly related to those that cause tuberculosis and leprosy.

“Skin infected with mycobacterium abcessus is usually red, warm, tender to the touch, swollen, and/or painful. Infected areas can also develop boils or pus-filled vesicles,” the CDC said. “Other signs of mycobacterium abcessus infection are fever, chills, muscle aches, and a general feeling of illness.”

Louisiana Department of Health spokesperson Kelly Zimmerman said officials hadn’t seen an infection like this one and have made several recommendations to the hospital to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

“The bacterium is not rare in the environment, but we have not seen very many outbreaks,” she said. “I don’t have an exact number, but we believe there have only been about six cases across the United States in the recent past.”

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