NIH hospital pipes held antibiotic-resistant bacteria linked to 3 patient deaths

Three patients died while admitted at the Bethesda, Md.-based National Institute of Health's hospital in 2016 after being infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the hospital's plumbing, according to STAT.  

"It is not exceptional for a hospital to have a [hospital-originating] infection," Tara Palmore, MD, hospital epidemiologist at the Clinical Center and one of the lead authors of a study on the incident, told STAT. "They occur in every hospital."

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found 12 patients were infected with Sphingomonas koreensis from 2006 through 2016. The researchers speculate that the antibiotic-resistant bacteria lived in the pipes as early as 2004 and potentially were left over from previous construction.

Researchers also indicated the NIH's hospital was aware of the Sphingomonas bacteria after six more patients at the Clinical Center showed similar symptoms. Four additional patients were infected with the disease and three of them died.

Researchers are unsure if the Sphingomonas is the only factor that killed the patients or if there is another cause. Most of the patients killed underwent a stem cell transplant, which can leave patients "vulnerable to infections," according to STAT.

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