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Surgeon infected 5 patients at Cedars-Sinai, hospital reports

 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said Friday that a heart surgeon unwittingly infected five patients during valve replacement surgeries, due to tiny tears in his latex surgical glove, earlier this year.

The infections caused four of the patients to need a second operation, officials said.

The infections occurred after the tears in the latex surgical gloves routinely worn by the doctor allowed bacteria from a skin inflammation on his hand to pass into the patients' hearts, according to the hospital. The patients survived the second operations and are still recovering, hospital officials said.

The outbreak led to investigations by the hospital and both the L.A. County and California departments of public health. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also consulted.

Hospital officials called it a "very unusual occurrence" probably caused by an unfortunate confluence of events: the nature of the surgery, the microscopic rips in the gloves and the surgeon's skin condition. Valve replacement requires the surgeon to use thick sutures and tie more than 100 knots, which can cause extra stress on the gloves, they said.

Nevertheless, the hospital's goal is to have zero infections, said Harry Sax, vice chairman of the hospital's department of surgery. "Any hospital-acquired infection is unacceptable," he said.

The infections raise questions about what health conditions should prevent a surgeon from operating and how to get the best protection from surgical gloves. Surgeons with open sores or known infections aren't supposed to operate, but there is no national standard on what to do if they have skin inflammation, said Rekha Murthy, medical director of the hospital's epidemiology department. She added that there were also no national standards on types of gloves used, whether to wear double gloves or how many times surgeons should change those gloves during a procedure.

Healthcare-acquired infections are very common throughout the United States. Each year, infections cause 99,000 deaths in the country, including about 12,000 in California. Hospitals in the state are required to report certain infections to the California Department of Public Health. That reporting makes the public more aware of the quality of care provided at local hospitals and is an important tool for reducing infections, said Debby Rogers, deputy director of the department's Center for Health Care Quality.

Cedars-Sinai has low rates for hospital-acquired infections compared with the state and national average but has not performed as well on other surgical quality measures recently, according to the Leapfrog Group, an employer-backed nonprofit focused on healthcare quality. The organization gave the hospital a C rating last month on its national report card, down from an A in June, though it was not related to the infection outbreak.

-- Anna Gorman

Photo: Cedars Sinai Medical Center. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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