Over the past eight months, ten infants at UC Irvine Medical Center tested positive for the same strand of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Despite the danger of this superbug due to its high resistance to most antibiotics, this information was only released to the public on Thursday. Thankfully, all ten babies survived and are currently healthy.
This information came to light after a member of the state's Healthcare Associated Infection Advisory Committee, Marian Hollingsworth, filed a complaint to the California Department of Public Health. Although the department investigated and found that no regulations were violated, this news is understandably causing concern in the community.
The first case was detected in August 2016, with the most recent being March 26. UC Irvine (UCI) defended its decision by claiming that there was no evidence that pointed to infants at UCI's neonatal unit being more likely to contract the disease than at other hospitals. UCI released a statement following the controversy, stating:
There is currently no MRSA infection or colonization among neonatal intensive care unit patients. We have closed one of our two neonatal intensive care units to new admissions, while taking infection prevention measures that meet or exceed best industry practices and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for disinfection.
To combat the spread of the disease, the hospital had its 200 employees undergo "decolonization" by having them apply antiseptic soap and ointment on their skin and in their nose to reduce the presence of MRSA.
Initially, only the parents of infants who were being tested or treated were told of the outbreak. In March, the hospital began telling the parents who had infants in intensive care. Come on, UCI, at that point you know it's too little, too late.
Hollingsworth's dismay at this news caused her to report this attempt to quietly handle the outbreak after learning of it from a friend who is an employee at UCI. She believes that parents have the right to know, telling CBS LA:
I'm a mom of four. I'll be outraged if no one told me. I think hospitals have a lot to learn yet about infection control, and everyone needs to be on it to help prevent it.
She also questioned the state's findings that UCI had followed procedure correctly, stating, "If UCI had done everything correctly there would not have been so many babies infected."
The public disclosure of outbreaks would allow patients to make a more informed decision and also cause the hospitals to be more stringent when trying to prevent outbreaks. Seems like a win-win to me.