Vermont medical center shuts down ORs after mystery smell sickens staff again

For the second time in two months, Colchester-based University of Vermont Medical Center's Fanny Allen Campus has closed its operating rooms and employees have sought medical care in response to a mystery odor, according to local news source VTDigger.

All five operating rooms will be closed through December as hospital and state officials investigate the source of the smell, according to a Dec. 4 news release. As many surgeries as possible are being diverted to the hospital's main campus in Burlington, Vt.

The smell, initially reported Oct. 9 and then again Nov. 27, originated in one operating room and spread to the other rooms, Steve Leffler, MD, interim president of the University of Vermont Medical Center, told VTDigger. The smell began in different operating rooms on the two occasions. 

Last week, seven employees were treated at an on-site urgent care center for lightheadedness and nausea, according to Dr. Leffler. Very low levels of carbon monoxide were found in two staff members who had blood drawn.

In October, 17 employees were treated for similar symptoms and two staff members also had very low levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, Dr. Leffler said. Staff reported "the smell of exhaust, or something that smelled like fumes," system leaders told VTDigger. One operating room was closed for a day. 

After both incidents, immediate air quality testing was done, but no evidence was found of any dangerous gases, Dr. Leffler said. 

The air system has been inspected by hospital staff, the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and an air quality consultant hired by the hospital. Dr. Leffler said the filters were changed after the October report.

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