By Joe Sylvester
DANVILLE — One of the eight premature infants infected with the Pseudomonas bacteria at Geisinger Medical Center in recent months still is undergoing antibiotic treatment, a Geisinger spokesman said on Tuesday.
Three of the infants from GMC’s neonatal intensive care unit died since early August, Geisinger officials announced on Monday. Four of the other infants were successfully treated, hospital officials said.
Meanwhile, doctors are continuing their search for the source and cause of the infection.
Geisinger officials said they are taking all precautions as they continue their investigation.
They said the Pseudomonas bacteria is not contagious person to person and is common.
Dr. Frank Maffei, Geisinger’s chair of pediatrics, said the deaths of the three infants may have been the result of infection complications. The infections were limited to the medical center’s NICU.
“This is a very common bacteria and is present in very different places and is often very harmless,” Maffei said at the news conference. “But it can cause disease in very fragile patients. Premature and tiny babies are among our most fragile.”
Evangelical Community Hospital, Lewisburg, has not experienced any such outbreaks in recent memory, hospital spokeswoman Deanna Hollenbach said.
Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said Pennsylvania has not had any reports of Pseudomonas bacteria outbreaks this year, but it is also not a reportable condition in Pennsylvania. He said bacteria is fairly rare but normally occurs in health care settings.
Geisinger will divert pregnant women who are likely to deliver in under 32 weeks gestation to other facilities, said Dr. Rosemary Leeming, Geisinger’s chief medical officer. Families of infants currently in the unit have the option of transferring their children to a facility in the Geisinger system or to an outside facility.
“We have not transferred any infants out of the NICU,” Geisinger officials said in a statement issued by spokesman Joseph Stender. “Our NICU care teams are actively working with families to come up with the best and safest solutions for the care of infants currently in the Geisinger NICU. Moving forward, Geisinger is temporarily diverting mothers expecting to deliver prior to 32 weeks gestation and infants delivered less than 32 weeks gestation.”
Leeming emphasized the medical center’s NICU remains open to care for babies born after 32 weeks gestation. Seven of the infants infected with the bacteria were born at under 26 weeks, one under 27 weeks. A full-term child is born at 39 to 40 weeks.
Maffei said infants born after 32 weeks are less vulnerable and require less invasive treatment, such as the insertion of tubes.
“It’s too soon to say where the organism is coming from,” said Dr. Mark Shelly, Geisinger’s director of infection prevention and control, said he expects it will take at least a couple of weeks for him to get the confirmatory information he needs.
Shelly said tests of the water supply and surfaces inside the NICU tested negative for the bacteria, hospital officials said.
The information Shelly has suggests the infection came from outside the NICU. Regardless, hospital staff has increased chlorination, done extra cleaning and changed processes.
When asked, Geisinger also responded that, “There has been absolutely nothing to indicate that the Pseudomonas bacteria was the result of any criminal or negligent behavior. Pseudomonas is common in everyday environments and is spread through contact with the bacteria, but is only dangerous for very fragile populations such as extremely premature infants.”