Equipment and procedures used to prepare donor breast milk for infants at the Geisinger Medical Center neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) appears to be the cause of severe bacterial infections that impacted eight infants at the Pennsylvania hospital in July, resulting in three infant deaths.
Hospital and health officials previously indicated that it was a mystery why the infants treated at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania over the summer were sickened or died. However, according to a statement released on Friday, it now appears that contaminated hospital equipment used to prepare and measure donor breast milk lead to the deadly bacterial infections, known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Illnesses began in July 2019, and the first infant death occurred in August. However, the hospital did not disclose the problems until September 30, and began diverting other sick infants to other hospitals in early October.
It now appears that an investigation traced the bacteria to equipment used in measuring and administering donor breast milk, which is given to premature infants to help with their nutritional needs when the mother’s milk is unavailable. Some parents are now questioning whether the hospital knew about the contamination problems earlier, and failed to protect the health and safety of infants treated at the Geisinger Medical Center NICU.
According to statements released on Friday, investigators used DNA testing to determine the cause of the infections. The equipment was tainted with Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which is a type of bacteria that grows well in moist environments. Most people who are infected face no serious harm. However, people with fragile immune system face a serious risk, including infants born premature with underdeveloped immune systems.
Symptoms of the infection include diarrhea, fever, rash, pneumonia, and pain.
Of the five infants who survived the infection, one child has been discharged and the rest are still hospitalized and being treated.
The donor breast milk itself was not the cause of the infections, but rather it appears that the hospital equipment used to prepare and administer the breast milk was tainted.
Geisinger Medical Center changed the breast milk preparation procedure on Sept 30, to single use equipment administer donor breast milk, and no new cases of sickened infants have been reported since the change.
Some patient families have already filed lawsuits against Geisinger Medical Center, alleging that the hospital failed to properly inform patient families about the cause of the illness and knew the preparation equipment was to blame, but failed to address it until after infants died.
Two of the infants had already died before the third child to die was even admitted to the hospital. One infant died on Sept 30, the day the hospital made the change in equipment, but the family was not made aware of the cause of their son’s illness at the time.
The lawsuits allege the hospital was negligent in cleaning its equipment and taking steps to save lives once red flags were discovered.
The hospital indicates it addressed the issue once they knew there was an ongoing problem and notified the state health department in August about the first infant’s death.
Geisinger Medical Center is continuing to divert mothers delivering earlier than 32 weeks and infants born at less than 32 weeks to different hospitals until the Department of Health clears the hospital to resume normal operations.