Seattle Hospital Reports Bacterial Outbreak

Virginia Mason Medical Center sees 31 cases of Klebsiella pneumoniae since October
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2023 4:10 PM CDT
Seattle Hospital Reports Bacterial Outbreak
Technicians use an anaerobic chamber.   (Genevieve de Manio/Seres Therapeutics via AP)

A Seattle hospital is investigating an outbreak of 31 bacterial infections that first emerged in October, reports CNN. The Virginia Mason Medical Center has confirmed 31 cases of Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria, which the Seattle Times explains can cause pneumonia or infections in the blood or in wounds. The most recent case was identified in early April. Four of the 31 patients have died, though health officials can't say whether the infection was responsible.

“Due to the medical complexity of these cases, there may be multiple possible causes of death for those individuals who died after the Klebsiella infection was diagnosed,” says a public health spokesperson for Seattle and King County. According to the NIH, Klebsiella pneumoniae is common, but it can be harmful to humans in medical settings. The danger is for people with weak immune systems—they can develop severe infections. In hospitals, the bacteria can spread easily via shared equipment, surfaces, and sometimes hands. Even worse, some strains of Klebsiella have become antibiotic resistant, making them difficult to treat.

In late 2022, the American Hospital Association highlighted a CDC report that indicated medical facility bacterial infections were on the rise beginning in 2021, when methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia infections rose by 14% and cases of "hospital onset Clostridioides difficile" went up by 3%. In a Virginia Mason news release, Dr. Eric Chow says Klebsiella outbreaks like this "are complex, and despite thorough investigation, we may never know the source." (Read more bacteria stories.)

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