355 mold infection cases occurred after admission to Washington hospitals, analysis shows

Hundreds of cases of Aspergillus mold infections at Washington hospitals occurred after patients were admitted in the last decade, a Seattle Times analysis shows, but that does not mean the patients contracted the infection from the hospital.

The Times analyzed discharge data tracked by the state's health department, finding that of nearly 6.8 million hospitalizations in Washington from 2009 through the first half of this year, only a fraction were hospital-reported Aspergillus infection cases — 4,159 cases to be precise.

In a majority of Aspergillus cases (90 percent), hospitals reported that patients already had the infection at the time of admission; but in 355 cases at 35 hospitals, reports show the Aspergillus infection occurred after hospital admission.

However, hospitals and state health officials pushed back on the notion that the hospitals were the only possible source of the infections occurring after hospital admission. Pinpointing the source for Aspergillus infection cases is not easy, as the mold grows both indoors and outdoors, and humans who are infected do not always show symptoms. A patient could arrive at a hospital colonized with Aspergillus, but not be diagnosed until later.

"You can't differentiate people who are colonized with the fungus who then develop disease from those who acquire the infection within the healthcare setting," Lisa Stromme Warren, a spokesperson for the state health department, told the Times.

The Times also shared its findings with hospitals, and some even reviewed the data on Aspergillus infections diagnosed after hospital admission. All of the hospitals said that they found no reason to believe the patients were infected in the hospital.

Hospitals are only required to report Aspergillus infections to local or national health regulators in the event of an outbreak. But now, Public Health-Seattle & King County is convening a working group to develop new reporting requirements for healthcare-associated Aspergillus infections, to be implemented in the first quarter of 2020.

The push to change reporting requirements was prompted, in part, by longstanding mold issues at Seattle Children's Hospital. The air circulating in its operating rooms is now thought to be the cause of 14 mold infections and six deaths dating to 2001. The hospital is facing three lawsuits related to the mold.

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