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Herd Immunity: NICU Babies Catch MRSA at Sacramento Hospital

Herd Immunity: NICU Babies Catch MRSA at Sacramento Hospital

Picture of William Heisel

Four words a parent never wants to hear when leaving the hospital: your baby has MRSA.

Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento tested babies in its neonatal intensive care unit in August and found more than 20 with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including two who had developed symptoms related to the infection.

Dr. Richard DeFelice, an infectious disease specialist at Sutter, told Bill Lindelof at the Sacramento Bee, "The other kids have no clinical illness associated with this." Lindelof wrote:

The hospital does cultures to keep on the lookout for MRSA. The bacterium is in a small portion of the general population and shows up on healthy people. DeFelice said the hospital is making sure that infection control policies are being followed. The babies who tested positive are separated from other infants. More gowns and gloves are being used.

"We are continuing to do surveillance cultures on kids to see if there is any continuing spread with these new measures," DeFelice said.

Routine testing and surveillance for the bacteria are great first steps. You can’t catch MRSA if you’re not testing for it. I’m not sure what "more gowns and gloves" means. If staffers weren’t wearing gowns and gloves before, that’s a problem. If they are now just changing their gowns and gloves more frequently, that could be a move in the right direction.

But this is the dilemma that hospitals are in. Trying to track MRSA and other drug-resistant bugs and be transparent about the findings also opens them up to public scrutiny and to potential legal repercussions.

According to reports by Andria Borba at Fox40 News and NBC’s KCRA 3, at least five families are preparing to sue the hospital. Borba reported:

They claim shoddy hand washing practices of Sutter doctors and nurses spread the bacteria from one baby to another.

"This is supposed to be where my daughter is safe. This is a hospital. This is a baby hospital. There is nothing she can do protect herself. They are supposed to protect her from this," said LaShanda Bey, mother of baby Akira.

Making matters worse for Sutter? There’ s video. Borba reported:

Stacy Heard, mom of baby Tristan, says the video of her son’s birth clearly shows the poor hygiene practices.

 "You guys can see him opening the door with gloves on and not changing his gloves, maybe they should've had someone there to open the door and then touching all over my baby. It's gross to me," Heard told FOX40.

Both preemies are still in the NICU at Sutter.

The hospital isn’t talking anymore. (Legal threats tend to have this effect.) And it could be months before we know the results of an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. You can check out Sutter Memorial on the Herd Immunity map.

Have a suggestion of your own that you’d like to add to the map? Send me a note at askantidote@gmail.com or via Twitter @wheisel.

Related Content:

Herd Immunity: Mapping MRSA and Other Superbugs, One Case at a Time 

Herd Immunity: Let's Put Innovators in Fighting MRSA and Healthcare-Associated Infections on the Map

Herd Immunity: Mount Sinai Medical Center Did a Public Service by Revealing MRSA Cases

Photo credit: Painting by 2nd grader Lauren Belloni via Bush 41 Library/Flickr

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