PA Hospital Investigates Waterborne Bacteria as Cause of Three Infant Deaths

By Jay Kumar

Officials at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, believe the recent deaths of three infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may have been caused by waterborne bacteria. As a result, the hospital is diverting some mothers and infants to other area facilities.

The Geisinger NICU “recently experienced an increase in cases of pseudomonas infection, a waterborne bacterium, among premature infants. While HIPAA regulations limit what we can disclose about individual cases, all were confined to Geisinger’s NICU in Danville,” according to a Geisinger statement on its website. “In total, eight infants confined specifically to the Geisinger Medical Center NICU were treated for a pseudomonas infection. Four of these infants have been successfully treated and are doing well; one of these infants continues to receive antibiotic treatment for the infection and is responding positively; and, sadly, the other three infants have passed away, which may have been a result of the infection complicating their already vulnerable state due to extreme prematurity. We express our deepest sympathies and provide our full support to the families and loved ones who have been affected.”

Geisinger is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the outbreak and ensure that the bacteria has been eliminated, according to the statement.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the obstetrics and neonatal teams at Geisinger Medical Center are temporarily diverting mothers likely to deliver prematurely before 32 weeks gestation, and infants born at less than 32 weeks gestation, to other regional institutions in Pennsylvania with appropriate NICU capabilities,” the statement continued. “We will continue our meticulous and comprehensive infection control practices to reduce the risk of any infection in any infant, and we remain committed to providing the highest level of family-centered neonatal care for our families and babies.”

Pseudomonas bacteria grows in water and in many cases, immune systems can resist it without any symptoms. But in the Geisinger NICU, the cases occurred in extremely premature infants, who are considered severely immune compromised.

Cultures taken from tap water in the Geisinger NICU and throughout the facility found no evidence of pseudomonas contamination, the hospital said. Officials do not believe any incoming water source is the origin of the bacteria, or that any incoming water at Geisinger poses a risk to the public.