Seattle Children's Hospital closed ten of its operating theaters to install new air filtration systems after six deaths from patients with mold infections were linked.
"We have been working to protect our operating theaters from Aspergillus infections." CEO Jeff Sperring said during a press conference on Monday. "So far we have not been successful."
Between 2001 and 2018, 14 patients developed infections of the Aspergillus surgical site. Of these 14 patients, six died.
"At the time, we believed that these were isolated cases," Sperring said. "We now believe that these infections were probably caused by the ventilation system in our operating theaters."
"Looking back, we should have made the connection earlier," added Sperring. "Put simply, we failed."
Two specially designed air treatment systems are installed in all operating theaters and HEPA air filtration systems are used in the room. HEPA filtration removes 99.97 percent of airborne particles that pass through the filter.
"This is the highest filtration level found in operating theaters today," said Sperring.
Sperring apologized to those affected for the Aspergillus infections as well as for the closure of the operating theaters.
"That's just devastating for her and for us," Sperring said. "They are extraordinary children, courageous families, we have abandoned you and I'm sorry."
State and County Health Department reports suggest that mold was a persistent problem at the Seattle Children's Hospital. In 2018, a hospital surgeon reported that deposits from an air manifold had fallen into the open stomach of a patient during surgery.
It is expected that improvements to the hospital's filtration system will be completed by the end of January 2020. More hospitals will take care of it Operations originally planned at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"We know that this closure will lead to a shift in many operations, and we regret the impact it will have on our patients and families," states a Seattle Children's Hospital statement. "We are confident that this is the safest option for our patients."
Aspergillus is a common mold that occurs both indoors and outdoors. People with weakened immune systems or lung diseases are at an increased risk of developing mold-induced aspergillosis, a fungal infection.
In the lungs, aspergillosis acts like a pneumonia. Contact with Aspergillus mold spores during surgery may lead to infections such as bacterial infections. Symptoms can be swelling and sharpness.
"In general, we can use the currently available drugs in combination with the immune system of a person who contributes to the defense, eliminate these infections," said the epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health of the University of Washington. "But sometimes they are too hard to clear."
Healthy people inhale Aspergillus spores every day without any negative effects, Kaufman added.