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Danville, Pa. -- Geisinger Medical Center in Danville announced today that they are diverting all mothers likely to give birth prematurely to other regional institutions in the state due to an increase in cases of pseudomonas infection, a waterborne bacteria. 

According to the Medical Center, eight infants, all confined to the Danville Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), were infected with the bacteria. Three have died, one is continuing to receive antibiotic treatment, and four others have been successfully treated and are recovering, according to the medical center. 

Related reading: Geisinger provides update on Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Geisinger Medical Center

Further addressing the issue in a news conference, doctors expressed deep sympathy and support to the families affected by the spread of the infection, and a fervent dedication to finding out the source of the bacteria.

“This is a bacterium that grows in liquids and water througout the environment,” said Dr. Mark Shelly, director of Infection Prevention and Control. “Even a dozen roses has it in a vase.” However, in their investigation to date, no strain has been found in environmental cultures taken in the NICU. That suggests it originated someplace outside the NICU, though no increase in infection has been found in other areas of the hospital.

“We’ve taken many measures; increased chlorination in the water, scrubbed the NICU,” said Dr. Shelly, “we’ve examined our processes, and even changed a few to see if we could find the source,” he said. So far, the bacteria source has been elusive. The hospital is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health, following their best practices guides to finding and eradicating the source.

Chief Medical Officer of GMC, Dr. Rosemary Leeming, emphasized that only the most susceptible patients are at risk, including babies born under 32 weeks gestation. “This does not affect any mom who is delivering a child over 32 weeks gestation,” Dr. Leeming said. Babies over 32 weeks gestation are safe, she asserted.

The three babies who succumbed were most vulnerable, born under 27 weeks gestation. Generally patients with pseudomonas infection are treated week or two with IVF antibiotics. The hospital says these premature infants could have died from a complication of their prematurity made worse by the bacteria.

“In a preterm baby, even when you clear infection, the child requires supportive care. Breathing, blood pressure, good heart function are all monitored,” said Dr. Frank Maffei, chair of Pediatrics at GMC. “Treating a premature infant is complicated and requires comprehensive care.”

“We’ve never seen a situation involving infection like this,” Dr. Maffei added. “The NICU has been the cornerstone of the children’s hospital for 25 years,” he said, seeing exceptional survival rates. “All of our providers, the entire neonatal staff has made this the most important priority, the utmost priority. It’s our obligation and our responsibility,” he said.

Doctors don’t consider this bacteria highly contagious from person to person. They are looking at commonalities, other sources that could be contributing that aren’t just related to proximity. “What did 1, 2, and 3 all get; not did it jump from 1 to 2 to 3--that is unlikely,” said Dr. Shelly.

During the investigation, the NICU will be diverting babies under 32 weeks gestation and moms who are likely to deliver preterm until the team is convinced they’ve found the source and eradicated it, they say. They’re anticipating the process may take at least a couple of weeks.