DC-Area Hospital Evacuates NICU After Dangerous Bacteria Found

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A hospital in the Washington, D.C., area has started to move patients from its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after Pseudomonas bacteria were found on three patients, hospital officials said.

Officials from the Prince George's Hospital Center in Maryland made the announcement today after potentially deadly Pseudomonas bacteria were found on the patients. They had no symptoms of infection, according to a statement by the Prince George's Hospital Center.

The bacteria had been found in a water pipe that was used by the NICU, hospital officials noted during a news conference today, adding that the investigation was launched after routine swabs of the infants revealed a cluster of Pseudomonas infections.

Dr. Carnell Cooper, the chief of medical affairs at Prince George's Hospital Center, told reporters the hospital was in the middle of an investigation into the bacterial infections and said no clear evidence linked the infections to the recent deaths of two infant patients there.

"Patients in our NICU are critically ill patients," he told reporters. "There's been no clear cause of death that has been related to infection itself."

The bacteria are found naturally in the environment but can be dangerous or even deadly for people with weakened immune systems. Pseudomonas is a regular problem for hospitals, since uninfected patients can arrive with it on their skin.

"Infections of the blood, pneumonia and infections following surgery can lead to severe illness and death in these people," according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Infants in an NICU likely have a weakened immune system and are at increased risk for developing serious complications if infected by the bacteria.

The hospital is working with the Prince George's County Health Department, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the University of Maryland School of Medicine to identify the source of the outbreak. Officials said they are disinfecting the water system to ensure the bacteria have been removed.

The Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission issued a statement reporting that water samples at a station near the hospital were clear and showed no signs of the bacteria that were present on the NICU patients.

"Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of all of our patients and their families, as well as our valued team of caregivers," officials from the hospital said in a statement today. "We realize that this situation is a source of concern to families, staff and the community. All parties should be assured of our commitment to manage this transfer process and concurrent investigation as smoothly as possible and to provide many layers of support."