FEB 02, 2017 3:22 PM PST

Diagnosed: Moldy Bedsheets Linked to 5 Hospital Deaths

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

A series of fungal-related deaths at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center may be caused by moldy linens..

The five deaths since 2014. Two patients were transplant recipients, one for a kidney and one for a lung. Another patient also a transplant patient at the Montefiore campus. The deaths caused a temporary shut down of UPMC’s transplant program in 2015, and all of the transplant patients on the ward were given antifungal medication as a prophylactic measure.

According to the investigation conducted by the CDC in 2015, the patients died of mucormycosis - a severe, fatal infection caused by a group of “angioinvasive molds.” In particular, the mold likely led to the fatality because the transplant patients were immunocompromised. While the investigation cited mold as the most likely culprit, it did not identify the source of the mold.

"In transplant patients with suppressed immune systems these fungal infections are infrequent, but do occur at most major transplant centers without any discernable source," the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said in a statement.

Now, an internal investigation into the source of the mold linked it to linens, which are provided to the hospital via a contract service called Paris Healthcare Linen. In particular, the new report documents significant traces of mold in the linen facilities and the actual linens delivered to the hospitals.

“I don't know why this launderer ever passed an accreditation after what we found,” said Andrew Streifel, a hospital environmental specialist who headed the internal investigation. “I'm referring to the amount of dust accumulated on inside surfaces and the roof. It looked like a snowstorm up there.”

Streifel reported “heavy fungal growth” of rhizopus on the “wet sheets collected from the UPMC laundry carts. The test was very conclusive for fungus,” he said. “It was also conclusive that something was wrong with that laundry,” he concluded.

However, faced with the 16-page report, the Department of Health and the CDC say there are no plans yet for anymore investigations into the matter. "The facts of this investigation don't support the conclusion that infections resulted from exposure to linens," said April Hutcheson, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman. "At this time, there is no evidence of an ongoing outbreak. We continue to provide consultative support to UPMC and will investigate as warranted."

"CDC, state, local and hospital officials completed their investigation and issued a report last year. The agencies stand by this report and there's no evidence of any ongoing outbreak. If state and local officials deem more work is needed and ask CDC for assistance then CDC will assist," said Tom Skinner, CDC spokesman.

Of note, the UPMC settled two out of the five cases of the mold-related deaths out of court, for $1.35 million each.

And regarding Paris Healthcare Linen, they have not addressed the concerns and stand by their practices. "Every day, Paris Companies processes and delivers hygienically safe linens to hospitals and health care institutions across Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia," said CEO Dave Stern.

Additional sources: CNN

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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