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Children’s Hospital Deaths Linked to Fungal Outbreak

children’s hospital deathsFive children’s hospital deaths that took place between 2008 and 2009 in New Orleans have now been linked to contaminated linens by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency has found that hospital linens were contaminated by Rizopus delemar, a flesh-eating fungus that is particularly dangerous and often deadly to individuals with compromised immune systems or serious medical conditions.

The children, ranging in age from 35 days to 13 years, had all been admitted to the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans with severe medical problems. Two of the children had blood diseases, two had serious heart conditions and the fifth was a premature baby. Despite the fact that all these children had been admitted to the hospital during an outbreak of mucormycosis infections, caused by the flesh-eating fungus, the cause of death for each of these patients was attributed to different factors.

CDC discover common factor in deaths

It was not until recently that the CDC discovered the one common factor affecting all of these patients was exposure to contaminated hospital linens. In a study published in the May 2014 issue of The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, researchers stated, “Five case-patients had hospital-associated cutaneous mucormycosis over an 11-month period; all subsequently died.” Researchers also noted that hospital linens were identified as the vehicle in which the fungal infection was spread, and recommended special procedures to ensure sterility of hospital linens in the future.

According to a report at the New York Times, contamination may have been the result of negligent procedures both by the hospital and the company contracted to provide laundry services to the hospital. The contractor, TLC Linen Services, suffered damage after Hurricane Katrina, which the company repaired. However, after repairs were made, TLC failed to have the facility tested for remaining mold spores. The building also lacked a proper ventilation system, which allowed spores and dust to enter the building from the street.

The hospital’s head of housekeeping also notified TLC that they no longer wanted linens delivered in sealed bags in 2007. The bags were making it more cumbersome to distribute linens throughout the hospital, because the plastic was getting caught in cart wheels. Other complaints by TLC included mix-ups of linens in trash bags and trash in linen bins.

Newborn and teen included in deaths

Cassandra Gee is the mother of newborn Tyrel Gee, who died at the hospital when he was just 44 days old – the first victim of the fungal infection. Gee told the Times-Picayune that she had no idea that her son’s death could have been linked to the outbreak until the CDC report was published. Gee said that while her son was in the hospital, due to a premature birth, he developed a sore on his groin which quickly spread throughout his diaper area. The child died four days later.

Zachary Tyler was admitted to the hospital six months after Gee, according to the New York Times report. At 13, Tyler was suffering with a recurrence of a condition resembling cancer that he had been treated for previously. Within weeks, Tyler contracted an infection under his arm and a second spot on his lower spine. Tyler underwent more than 20 medical procedures, including a colonostomy before his death on May 17, 2009.

Other victims of the children’s hospital deaths included a 10 and 11-year-old, as well as a second premature infant. All of the children died in different areas of the hospital, and the contaminated linens appear to be the only factor all of the children had in common. The official cause of death was different for each of the children and none was specifically attributed to the outbreak at the time of death.

Lawsuits filed against hospital

Questions have been raised about how the hospital allowed contaminated linens to be used for patients, and why it took so long for hospital personnel to see a link between the five deaths. Three of the families of the deceased children have filed lawsuits against the hospital in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The case involving the 13-year-old is still pending, while the case involving the 10-year-old was settled outside the court. The third case was recently filed by the Gee family, after they discovered their baby’s death may have been linked to the outbreak.