52 patients test positive for unknown bacteria at Arkansas cancer center

The Arkansas Department of Health confirmed 52 cancer patients at Arkansas Cancer Institute in Little Rock have contracted an unidentified bacterial infection health officials have not seen before, according to Kark 4 News.

The ACI released a statement Oct. 26 indicating 52 patients contracted the bacterial infection, which the CDC is temporarily calling FVL 2018-32. Most of the infections occurred in cancer patients who had chemotherapy ports. Three of these patients died, although ACI said it is unclear whether their deaths were directly linked to the infection. 

In September, the center sent a letter to 155 patients who had chemotherapy ports used at the facility between March 22 and Sept. 11, notifying them they could be at risk for the bacterial infection.

Dirk Haselow, MD, PhD, state epidemiologist at the Arkansas department of Health, explained the bacteria is so new, physicians don't know exactly know how it works or what symptoms it causes.

"These lines weren't necessarily placed by the cancer institute. The common factor is that they are being treated at the cancer institute," Dr. Haselow told NBC.com. "This is an infection that no one has experience with. We have engaged experts in infectious disease at [University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock] as well as experts at CDC."

The infection is "completely treatable" with a two-week course of antibiotics and removal of the chemotherapy port, according to a statement from ACI."So we don't believe this is a risk to the public. We don't believe there's any ongoing risk to patients newly seen at the ACI," Dr. Haselow told Kark 4 News.

The ACI said it expects the 49 sickened patients to make a full recovery.

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