Bacteria prompts Franciscan Children's to restrict water, adjust transfer use

Franciscan Children's in Brighton, Mass., is restricting the use of water after discovering the presence of harmful bacteria in two water sources. 

After an investigation, which included testing water throughout the campus, found the bacteria, the hospital shut down all tap water Nov. 22. After newly filtered taps were added, though, the hospital began to allow staff to use water to bathe children starting Dec. 5. The filters have been applied throughout the hospital's medical and dental units and in operating rooms. 

"Out of an abundance of caution, we immediately stopped using the water in those two areas for drinking and bathing," Jane O'Brien, MD, chief medical officer of Franciscan Children's, said in a statement, The Boston Globe reported. 

The bacteria, known as Burkholderia cepacia, was first detected at Franciscan Children's in 2019. Since then, 36 children have arrived at the hospital with the bacteria or tested positive once they were admitted. 

Though the bacteria generally has little medical risk to healthy individuals, B. cepacia can trigger infections and other illnesses in medically compromised people. It's also resistant to common antibiotics and can be harmful for patients with cystic fibrosis and lung transplant recipients, for instance. 

According to The Boston Globe, Franciscan Children's officials have been working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the CDC to identify the source of the contamination. 

“We partnered with DPH and CDC to ensure patients who could potentially be vulnerable to Burkholderia were not transferred to Franciscan Children’s, and that all patients transferred from Franciscan to other hospitals are first tested to prevent the spread of the bacteria,” Dr. O’Brien said.

Besides limiting the use of water for consumption and bathing, staff were told to sanitize their hands after washing them in the sink. The hospital is also not accepting transfers of patients with lung transplants, who are more vulnerable to infection. 

B. cepacia is known to cause infections in hospitalized patients, including in 2020 at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital which led to deaths of three patients in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit. There have also been 111 outbreaks caused by B. cepacia in healthcare settings since 1971. Of the 2,390 patients tracked in the report published by Infection Prevention in Practice, 28 died as a result of their infections. 

Daniel Kuritzkes, MD, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women's, said while they occasionally encounter B. cepacia, they generally don't treat it with antibiotics until there are symptoms indicating an infection to prevent the bacteria from developing further resistance to antibiotics. 

"We would see this crop up a few times a year," Dr. Kuritzkes told The Boston Globe. "There are a variety of bacteria we encounter in the ICU. Burk is one of them, but fortunately it isn't as common as some of the others."

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