“Superbug” Outbreak Kills 6 at NIH Clinical Center

Details are finally emerging in the case of a deadly outbreak of a “superbug” at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Clinical Center in Washington, D.C., last summer. At least six deaths have been attributed to the outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae.

The NIH reported on the outbreak in the most recent edition of the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

The infection started with the admission of a lung transplant patient infected with the “superbug” in June of last year. According to a Washington Post report, the “hospital’s infection-control team was on high alert” and worked immediately to contain the patient and the bacteria.

Only two known antibiotics are capable of killing the Klebsiella pneumoniae virus.

The patient was isolated in the hospital’s intensive-care unit and only certain staff cared for her and attended to her room. Those staff members did not interact with or care for any other patients during that time and upon entry to her room, they wore gloves and masks to prevent spreading the infection from that patient to anywhere else in the hospital.

The measures taken by the hospital, according to the report, appeared to work as there were no other signs of infection among other patients or staff at the NIH facility. A few weeks after the infected patient was cleared to be released in July 2011, the hospital was shocked to learn that a series of patients soon developed signs of infection with the “superbug.” Four patients died during the initial outbreak.

During the outbreak, hospital officials ordered the construction of a physical wall that contained a “six-bed unit” of the hospital specifically designed to treat patients infected with the powerful virus. This included the use of medical devices like blood pressure cuffs that were used once and discarded to prevent the virus from spreading more than it had.

Unlike the virus that originally infected the lung transplant patient in June 2011, this new outbreak proved to be too powerful for any antibiotic, including experimental drugs not yet approved for widespread use.

Now that details are emerging, it’s now learned that 11 of 17 people who became infected with the “superbug” had died. Six of the deaths in total have been attributed directly to the infection.

In the wake of the outbreak, the NIH facility has stepped up the measures it takes to prevent future infections among patients. According to the report, the “hospital now tests every patient transferring in from another facility for superbugs, (and) tests every ICU patient twice a week.”

The report adds that data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified six percent of hospitals across the U.S. that are currently dealing with outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Since it was identified in 2000, Klebsiella pneumoniae virus has struck hospitals in 41 states.

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