Unusual infection found in small number of surgical patients

Greenville Health System (GHS), which has a robust infection prevention and control program, found an unusual infection in a small number of surgical patients. The infections are caused by an atypical mycobacterium. Due to an aggressive surveillance program, the infections were identified in 14 surgical patients at the Greenville Memorial Medical Campus.

GHS, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) are working to identify the source of the infections.

Mycobacteria are found in the natural environment in water, soil and dust. Most people, when exposed, experience no symptoms or adverse health effects. This is a rare infection in people and is not contagious. People who are already sick with other illnesses and have had surgical procedures are more susceptible to such an infection.

Because of the organism’s long incubation period of as much as 60 days, some of the GHS patients did not show signs of infection until months after their surgeries. The first-recognized patient tested positive in March 2014. Patients who have tested positive for this organism are being notified.

“Based on the preliminary results of the investigation, we believe that the infection is related to a piece of equipment which was removed from use. In an abundance of caution, all other pieces of equipment which may potentially be involved in these cases have also been removed from use,” said Bill Kelly, M.D., hospital epidemiologist at Greenville Health System.

“Because of our strong surveillance system, we were able to identify the potential problem and take immediate and appropriate action,” said Kelly. “Patients and families will always be our top priority. We will continue to work closely with outside agencies to investigate the infection; we will continue to monitor and support those patients who have been affected.”

Surgical patients who have questions or concerns should contact their doctor.

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