Providence Alaska Medical Center is dealing with a serious outbreak of a drug-resistant staph infection among some of its most vulnerable patients, babies in the newborn intensive care unit.
Fourteen babies since March have contracted mild to moderate infections caused by MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, a state health department epidemiologist said Wednesday.
Seventeen other infants have been found carrying the bacteria on their skin or noses, but did not get sick from it, said Kim Porter, a state epidemiology expert.
“We don’t have any active infections, but we still have those patients (some of the ones carrying the bacteria),” said Dr. Lily Lou, medical director for the Providence newborn intensive care unit. “We’re hoping we’re in the waning phase.”
It’s been several weeks since any new infections were discovered, said a Providence spokeswoman.
Providence called in state epidemiologists in April to help stop the bacteria from spreading and possibly causing more infections. The state is still actively involved.
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Bacterial infections can range from mild to life-threatening or fatal. Ones caused by MRSA are different because they resist treatment by a group of antibiotics that includes methicillin penicillin, and amoxicillin, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the infections can be treated with other antibiotics, and all the infected babies in Providence’s neonatal intensive care unit have been treated successfully and are improving, said Dr. Megan Clancy, Providence’s director of infection control.
The symptoms for staph infections tend to be redness, pustules or boils on the skin, pain and sometime fevers, she said.
It’s the first time such an outbreak has occurred in the Providence newborn intensive care unit (NICU), though such outbreaks have occurred in other NICUs around the country, said Dr. Clancy.
The hospital as a whole annually usually sees 10 to 12 cases of MRSA infection of the type that people get in the hospital, she said.
People can also get MRSA infections just out in the community.
The bacteria normally spreads by hand-to-skin contact, said Clancy.
“You have it on your hands, you touch somebody else, you’re involved in their care.”
Sneezes or coughs can also transfer the bacteria.
All of the cases in the Providence NICU come from the same genetic fingerprint — a single source, said Porter. The strain originated from within the hospital, she said.
“We don’t know how or when it came into the unit,” said
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