Blog | Friday, September 13, 2013

Outbreak investigation: Truth stranger than fiction


I stumbled upon a post on a Vermont online news site that really grabbed me (some additional details here). This is like something from a movie. It’s the story of a cluster of infections occurring after arthroscopic procedures in a Vermont hospital. The infections were clustered over a one-month period and the procedures were all performed by the same surgeon. All of the infections were caused by different organisms. So far, nothing terribly exciting. But the surgeon claims that the patients were intentionally infected by the hospital who was trying to defame him. So the surgeon hires Dr. Bill Jarvis, a noted hospital epidemiologist, to investigate, and the plot thickens. Dr. Jarvis comes to the conclusion that the patients were infected by irrigation fluid used in the OR that had been intentionally contaminated (see his report here). He goes even further, noting that the organisms that caused the infection had been purchased by the hospital from the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) weeks to months before the intentional contamination occurred. Now that’s some herculean dot connecting! Of course, without having the organisms from the infections available for molecular typing to compare to the ATCC strains the hypothesis can’t be proven. If this goes to trial, it will be very interesting to follow.

Addendum: Another article about this outbreak from a different angle. Hat tip: Deb Burdsall.

Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. This post originally appeared at the blog Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention.