Potentially deadly bacteria closes Maryland NICU

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The neonatal intensive care unit at a Maryland hospital was closed temporarily this week after three babies tested positive for a potentially fatal bacterial infection.

Nine babies were evacuated Tuesday from the NICU at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly after nose swabs of three infants tested positive for pseudomonas bacteria, according to an article from The Washington Post. Hospital officials said the children presented no symptoms related to the infection, as the bacteria is generally mild for healthy patients but is a far more serious concern for the immunocompromised.

Two babies in the NICU recently died, The Post reports, but there has thus far been no evidence to link those deaths to pseudomonas infection. The investigation is ongoing. Water pipes near the NICU, though, tested positive for the bacteria, according to the article.

Joan Hebden, R.N., who specializes in infection control at the University of Maryland Medical School, told The Post the hospital has hired a water company to determine if the contaminated pipes were the source of the infection. Hebden said all water that enters or leaves the hospital will be tested multiple times and, if needed, decontaminated before Prince George’s reopens its neonatal unit. No one other water sources in the hospital appear to be contaminated, she told The Post.

Chuck Gerba, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona, told The Post that pseudomonas aeruginosa, one of the most common strains of the bacteria, can be frequently found in household faucets, but most hospitals have filtration systems that reduce it by as much as 95 percent in water. However, despite these efforts, patients with weakened immune systems can catch the bacteria from contaminated drinking water or from clinicians who washed their hands where the bacteria was present.

Prince George’s Hospital Center has the only level 3 NICU in the southern part of Maryland, according to The Post, a designation that allows it to treat newborns with complex conditions.

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