CHEVERLY – Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) has closed its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and transferred the patients there after a potentially deadly bacteria was found in a water pipe, officials announced Tuesday. Nine babies in the NICU were transferred to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 9 out of “an […]
CHEVERLY – Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) has closed its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and transferred the patients there after a potentially deadly bacteria was found in a water pipe, officials announced Tuesday.
Nine babies in the NICU were transferred to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 9 out of “an abundance of concern for safety,” according to Dr. Carnell Cooper, chief medical officer for Dimensions Healthcare System, a non-profit entity formed by the county government to run its hospitals. Water pipes feeding the unit were found to contain the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause blood, lung and other infections in humans, particularly those with weak immune systems.
The bacteria was found after two babies died in the NICU and routine monitoring via nose swabs revealed three others tested positive for the bacteria, although Cooper said all three are “clinically asymptomatic.”
“What we noticed was there were a cluster of positive swabs that were above what our normal number is,” Cooper said.
This discovery prompted the hospital to initiate further testing, which discovered the bacteria in the water. Sherry Perkins, who is the chief operating officer and executive vice president at Dimensions as well as a registered nurse, said the hospital had not been using the water in that unit for “several days” prior to the decision to transfer the infants. The NICU also stopped admitted new patients on Aug. 4, she said.
Officials say although two infants have died, there is nothing to link those deaths to Pseudomonas specifically.
“There have been no clear deaths associated with these infections,” Cooper said. “Patients in our NICU are critically ill patients. These are small premies (premature babies) usually, and so they often have a multitude of conditions that put them at risk for dying. But there’s been no clear cause of death.”
Information regarding when those two infants died was not released.
Cooper said the hospital followed its normal procedures for transferring its NICU patients to Children’s National, and is continuing to collect data throughout the hospital to keep other patients safe.
Joan Hebden, an infection preventionist with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said staff have collected samples from several areas throughout PGHC, including all three intake valves where water enters the hospital. But they are not worried about other areas beyond the NICU, she said.
“We do not have any concerns currently about water elsewhere in the building,” Hebden said.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies water to the hospital, said in a statement that it collected a regularly-scheduled water sample from a site “a few minutes away” on Aug. 3, which showed no coliform bacteria and chlorine levels within regulations.
“WSSC does not test specifically for the presence of (the) bacterium Pseudomonas, but does test for total coliform,” the statement said. “In its 98-year history, WSSC has never had a drinking water quality violation.”
WSSC also offered its assistance to the county health department. And County Executive Rushern Baker III offered the government’s resources to the hospital and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene if needed. He said the government is continuing to monitor the situation.
“I know this situation is very alarming and stressful for the parents of the babies in the NICU, and my thoughts and prayers go out to them at this time. The Prince George’s County Government is committed to assisting the hospital in any way possible, if needed to protect the health and safety of all the patients, staff and visitors to the facility,” he said in a statement. “I am confident the healthcare professionals who are handling this matter, which I understand is fairly common in hospitals, will ensure that the health and welfare of the hospital’s patients is not compromised.”
Health officials say the Pseudomonas bacterium is commonly found in the environment, like soil and especially water. It is also a common source of healthcare-associated infections, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating about 51,000 cases each year in the United States.
Dr. Kerri Thom, an epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the bacteria is frequently found on skin and in the digestive system, often without causing symptoms.
“Infections or clusters of infections are frequently reported in the scientific literature,” she said. “In most cases there is no single source of contamination identified. However, in many cases water can be implicated.”
County council Chair Derrick Davis said in a statement the council in its role as the board of health is “deeply concerned” by the situation and will continue to offer oversight and monitoring.
Perkins said the hospital is beginning the process of disinfecting the plumbing in the NICU today, Aug. 10. After that process, the pipes and water will be tested again for bacteria.
She did not know when the unit might be reopened.