City News Service

Irvine Hospital Defending How it Handled Bacterial Outbreak

UC Irvine Medical Center officials Thursday defended how they handled an outbreak of the dangerous MRSA bacteria that affected 10 infants in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit in light of speculation officials attempted to handle the issue behind the scenes.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Marian Hollingsworth, who filed a complaint about the way the outbreak was handled with the state, called the newspaper and alerted reporters about it dating back to August.

Hollingsworth told the Times that hospital officials should have been more forthcoming to pregnant women admitted to the hospital for births. John Murray, a spokesman for the medical center, said suggestions the hospital was not forthcoming about information were "completely untrue."

"We were working with Orange County health officials since August and informed the California Department of Public Health. Both agencies reviewed our infection prevention plans and signed off on our efforts,'' Murray said.

The California Department of Public Health "partially substantiated the complaint allegations (but) that did not constitute a violation of the regulations," according to a finding made April 3.

An official with the state said the department "found the hospital to be in compliance with state regulatory requirements on reporting."

The hospital sent a letter informing the state about the outbreak, but state officials did not receive it. But a state official said in an email to City News Service, "there was no follow-up call received from the hospital."

The CDPH district office was not aware of the outbreak until March due to a complaint received.''

The state started its investigation March 20 after receiving the complaint. The department sent "surveyors" to the hospital "unannounced."

None of the 10 infected infants died, Murray said. The newborns tested positive between August and March for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

"All were successfully treated with antibiotics and topical medicines to get rid of the germ," Murray said. "There is currently no MRSA infection or colonization among neonatal intensive care unit patients.''

The hospital closed one of two neonatal intensive care units to new admissions and are "taking infection prevention measures that meet or exceed best industry practices and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for disinfection," Murray said.

The MRSA strain is commonly found everywhere and in hospitals and does not always lead to illness, Murray said.

"It's not always possible to find the source," he said.

Orange County officials confirmed the strain in December, prompting hospital officials to step up "infection prevention measures," Murray said.

In January and February, about 220 workers in the NICU "pre-emptively underwent decolonization," Murray said. The process involves use of antiseptic soaps and ointments.

Four staff workers tested positive for the strain in January, but now show no sign of it in them, Murray said.

Following the most recent case last month, "we have repeated deep cleaning, continued attention to hand hygiene and repeated staff decolonization," Murray said.

Hospital officials are "screening all babies" for the bacteria when they arrive and weekly until they are discharged, Murray said.

Antibacterial ointments and antiseptic soaps are being used for the newborns, and staff and visitors must wash their hands with antibacterial soap prior to entering the NICU, Murray said.

Staff and visitors also must sanitize their smart phones and other devices with alcohol wipes and put them in plastic bags before entering the NICU, Murray said.

The hospital is also using "soft cotton gowns," which is the best way to prevent the spread of the strain, Murray said.

A "hydrogen peroxide vapor" also was used to "further disinfect the NICU," Murray said.

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