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UC Irvine Medical Center Defends Its Handling Of MRSA Outbreak Infecting 10 Infants

ORANGE (CBSLA) — UC Irvine Medical Center on Thursday defended how it handled an outbreak of the dangerous superbug that infected 10 infants in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

The newborns tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA between August and March.

But the babies were successfully treated, and the parents were notified, hospital spokesman John Murray said.

According to Marian Hollingsworth, a member of the state's Healthcare Associated Infection Advisory Committee, she filed a complaint with the California Department of Public Health in August.

She said she was alarmed that neither the hospital nor county health officials alerted the public immediately.

"I'm a mom of four. I'll be outraged if no one told me," Hollingsworth said. "I think hospitals have a lot to learn yet about infection control, and everyone needs to be on it to help prevent it."

Murray said suggestions the hospital was not forthcoming about information were "completely untrue," and did not believe the outbreak was a threat to public health.

"We were working with Orange County health officials since August and informed the California Department of Public Health. Both agencies reviewed our infection prevention plans and signed off on our efforts," Murray explained.

The Orange County Health Department sent a statement that said in a part: "We do not have evidence that infants admitted to UCI's NICU are at higher risk than infants admitted elsewhere, so a public notification would not serve to prevent or lower the risk of infection transmission."

The hospital has not identified the source of the outbreak, but said there are no infected babies now.

The California Department of Public Health "partially substantiated the complaint allegations (but) that did not constitute a violation of the regulations," according to a finding made April 3.

An official with the state said the department "found the hospital to be in compliance with state regulatory requirements on reporting."

The hospital sent a letter informing the state about the outbreak, but state officials did not receive it.

But a state official said in an email to City News Service, "there was no follow-up call received from the hospital.

The CDPH district office was not aware of the outbreak until March due to a complaint received."

The state started its investigation March 20 after receiving the complaint. The department sent "surveyors" to the hospital "unannounced."

"All were successfully treated with antibiotics and topical medicines to get rid of the germ," Murray said. "There is currently no MRSA infection or colonization among neonatal intensive care unit patients."

The hospital closed one of two neonatal intensive care units to new admissions and are "taking infection prevention measures that meet or exceed best industry practices and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for disinfection," Murray said.

The MRSA strain is commonly found everywhere and in hospitals and does not always lead to illness, Murray said. "It's not always possible to find the source," he said.

Orange County officials confirmed the strain in December, prompting hospital officials to step up "infection prevention measures," Murray said.

In January and February, about 220 workers in the NICU "pre-emptively underwent decolonization," Murray said. The process involves use of antiseptic soaps and ointments.

Four staff workers tested positive for the strain in January, but now show no sign of it in them, Murray said.

Following the most recent case last month, "we have repeated deep cleaning, continued attention to hand hygiene and repeated staff decolonization," Murray said.

Hospital officials are "screening all babies" for the bacteria when they arrive and weekly until they are discharged, Murray said.

Antibacterial ointments and antiseptic soaps are being used for the newborns, and staff and visitors must
wash their hands with antibacterial soap prior to entering the NICU, Murray said.

Staff and visitors also must sanitize their smart phones and other devices with alcohol wipes and put them in plastic bags before entering the NICU, Murray said.

The hospital is also using "soft cotton gowns," which is the best way to prevent the spread of the strain, Murray said.

A "hydrogen peroxide vapor" also was used to "further disinfect the NICU," Murray said.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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