Surgeon Linked to California Hospital Staph Infection Outbreak

At least five patients who underwent heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have been diagnosed with staph infections, and investigators say it was likely spread by a doctor who operated with an infected hand. 

Officials from the prestigious hospital say an unnamed doctor had an infection on his hands and spread staph bacteria to patients accidentally through small tears in his surgical gloves. He implanted replacement heart valves in all of the victims.

All five patients have been infected with staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria, according to hospital officials. The bacteria has caused them to suffer endocarditis, an infection of the heart chamber and valves. Four of the patients needed follow-up surgery as a result of the infections. The California Department of Public Health is still investigating the incidents.

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About a quarter to one-third of all humans carry the staphylococcus bacteria in colonies somewhere on the body, usually the nose, mouth, or genitals. The infection usually occurs when the bacteria gets into the body through a cut. Staph infections vary in strength, from easily treatable boils to potentially deadly infections that shrug off many commonly-used antibiotics.

Antibiotics can be used to treat staph infections caught early. But if they go untreated, the infections can damage muscles or the fibers that enclose muscles, which then need to be surgically cleaned. Staph infection symptoms typically include fever, chills, sweats, small areas of tenderness or swelling, open sores that develop redness, warmth swelling and pain.

A study conducted in hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia in 2010 found that the risk of staph infections following chest or brain surgery were higher than after other types of surgery. According to the findings, surgical site infections and bloodstream infections due to staph occurred about once for every 200 procedures. About 51% of those infections were caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a so-called “superbug” that resists many forms of antibiotic treatment.

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of medical malpractice lawsuits over hospital infections filed throughout the United States, as experts believe that most of these potentially life-threatening infections that develop in hospitals and medical centers can be prevented if steps are taken by the facility and staff.

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