Rise of Deadly Hospital Fungal Infections Worries Health Officials

According to the NY Times, it started with a premature baby boy whose mother noticed a skin irritation near the baby’s groin. The irritation grew and worsened until an infection had burrowed into the abdominal cavity. In all, five children have died from complications to a hospital acquired fungal infection at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans between the years 2008 and 2009.
According to the Times, “The children died of various causes between August 2008 and July 2009 during an outbreak of a flesh-eating fungal infection, mucormycosis, most likely spread by bed linens, towels or gowns, according to a medical journal. The disclosure this month caused new pain for the families of the children and raised troubling questions about how the infections came about, why doctors did not connect the cases until more than 10 months after the first death, and what obligation the hospital had to inform parents — and the community of the outbreak.

Those questions take on greater urgency, experts say, because deadly fungal infections, while still rare, appear to be on the rise nationwide. That may be because of changes in the environment and a larger pool of vulnerable people with suppressed immune systems because patients are living longer with serious illnesses. An estimated 75,000 patients with infections picked up in health care facilities die in hospitals each year, according to figures released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Hospital acquired infections are part of the growing number of preventable medical errors or events that cause patients untold suffering and pain. There are a number of issues which should cause concern related to this particular story. First, the infection outbreak itself is an issue that should have been preventable or at least stopped before five children died. Second, hospital officials should have been able to make the connection between the cases and addressed the problem. Finally, our healthcare system won’t improve until situations like this tragic one are studied and ways to prevent them are implemented.