New Orleans Children’s Hospital Deaths Linked to Tainted Linens: Report

A new report suggests that improperly cleaned and handled linens at a New Orlean’s hospital may be responsible for the deaths of several children who suffered rare, flesh-eating fungal infections.

Between August 2008 and July 2009, at least five children died at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans as a result of mucormycosis infections, which ate away at the children until they died from the resulting damage.

In a report published in the May issue of The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate for that the deaths were likely caused by contaminated linens, surgical gowns and towels, resurrecting questions over what the hospital knew, what it was obligated to do to prevent the outbreak and to tell parents.

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“The cases occurred on several different wards throughout the hospital, and hospital linens were the only exposure identified as common to the case-patients,” the report notes.

An investigation found that the patients were infected with a fungus known as Rizopus delemar. The same strain of the species was found in supposedly clean linens and clean linen delivery bins used in the hospital and at an off-site laundry facility.

“Hospital linens were identified as a vehicle that carried R. delemar into contact with susceptible patients,” the report notes. “Hospital linens should be laundered, packaged, shipped and stored in a manner that minimizes exposure to environmental contaminants.”

Hospital emails, patient records, and interviews with those involved appear to reveal that the facility failed to conduct proper infection control procedures. Clean and dirty linens were moved in the same laundry bins through the same loading dock used for medical waste.

In light of the findings, a number of questions are being asked about how the Children’s Hospital failed to properly handle linens, and why it took so long to find out what killed the children.

On April 10, New Orleans Children’s Hospital held a press conference informing the families about the outbreak that occurred almost five years ago. The Times-Picayune of New Orleans blasted the hospital in an editorial for waiting until the damning report came out to provide the parents with information concerning the cause of their child’s death.

The editorial points out that one mother did not realize her child was the first victim of the outbreak until she read about it in the Times-Picayune earlier this month.

“Almost five years have passed since the cause of the outbreak was identified,” the editorial notes. “No one at Children’s thought to call the families until the media reported the deaths last week?”

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