12:29pm

Fri April 8, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Germy Faucet Harbored Bacteria Fingered In Ala. IV Outbreak

Don't drink the water, or use it to mix intravenous fluids for hospital patients.

An investigation into microbial contamination that led to blood infections of 19 hospitalized patients in Alabama has found a genetic match between bacteria cultured from a dozen infected patients and water samples from a faucet in a pharmacy that prepared IV nutrition products.

The bacteria were also found on a mixing container, stirrer and inside a bag of amino acids at the pharmacy. The Alabama Department of Public Health says "a failure in a step of the sterilization process... was most likely the cause of the contamination."

The bacterial culprit was Serratia marcescens. And the source was Meds IV Pharmacy in Birmingham, Ala.

Nine people who developed blood infections died, though all were already ill enough to require intravenous nutrition. The Alabama Department of Public Health said it first learned of the problem on March 16, when two hospitals in the state notified officials of patients with bloodstream infections.

All the IV products made by the pharmacy were recalled in late March.

Alabama State Health Officer Donald Williamson said in a Thursday media briefing that it wasn't clear if a filter used in sterilization process was defective or if there was a more systematic breakdown of procedures, Reuters reported. The investigation will continue, he said.

As Shots recently reported, bacteria can live quite happily in some faucets. Johns Hopkins Hospital has found the germs that cause Legionnaire's disease can thrive in hands-free faucets. As a result, Hopkins will be using old-fashioned faucets in a new hospital that is nearing completion. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.