We can look at the medical response to a clear danger and compare it to Valley Fever. In this case, it was the need to prevent an Aspergillosis outbreak. Consider the story and how things might be handled differently for Valley Fever.
SEATTLE – A group of operating rooms at Seattle Children’s Hospital have been closed and patients are being diverted to nearby hospitals after the discovery of mold in operating rooms and surgical equipment storage rooms. “In our sampling of the air within the OR (Operating Room) we detected levels of Aspergillus, which is a common mold that is available in the air and everywhere out in the environment,” said Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, Chief Medical Officer at Seattle Children’s.
Dr. Danielle Zerr, the Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Seattle Children’s, said the mold discovery was made over the weekend.
“People can get Aspergillus on their clothing, and in their hair just walking around outside, so you could imagine how little bits of Aspergillus can make their way into a hospital,” Zerr said.
Hospital staff “made the decision to close the affected rooms and then just start an investigation into how the Aspergillus may have gotten into those rooms,” Del Beccaro said.
The hospital said they will be notifying the families whose children had surgeries, or spent extended periods of time at the hospital. In total, the families of roughly 3,000 children will be contacted, the hospital said.
“We’re going to, out of an abundance of caution, contact everyone who has had a procedure in the main campus ORs over the last four months,” Del Beccaro said.
In a written statement, hospital spokeswoman Alyse Bernal told KOMO:
Patient safety is our top priority, and we are taking this situation very seriously. All affected operating rooms have been closed and will remain so until we are confident that the areas are clear of Aspergillus. We are postponing or diverting some surgical cases and moving others to our Bellevue campus. We will also perform some cases in areas of our hospital that have been determined to be clear of Aspergillus, like our cardiac catheterization facility. We are working with an outside industrial hygienist to investigate the source of the Aspergillus and implement mitigation measures. We have also reported the situation to the Washington State Department of Health.
Patients are being diverted to Harborview Medical Center and Mary Bridge Children’s in Tacoma, others went to UW Medicine and even Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
“We have canceled a significant number of cases because we don’t have enough rooms,” Del Beccaro said. “Most of them, like we said, have extraordinary low risks, but we know they might be worrying, so we want contact them to reassure most of them.”
Zerr said Aspergillus is more of a concern for children with compromised immune systems.
The history of Valley Fever has consistently been to mention the danger but then to mention the risk factors, as if to minimize the danger to everyone. Aspergillus and Coccidioides, like all infectious organisms, are more severe in people with compromised immune systems. However, so much more care and respect for human life has been taken with the possibility of this outbreak when compared to the every-day-of-the-year risk of Valley Fever, which is so frequently ignored.
…staff are cleaning impacted rooms with an Ammonia-based solution.
KOMO has learned that two patients at Seattle Children’s over the last year have battled Aspergillus infections – one died…It’s unclear why Seattle Children’s didn’t release anything earlier about the cases.
“What we’re concerned about is that because we found higher than normal levels we don’t want to get any other, put any other children at risk so that’s why we closed the rooms,” Del Beccaro said.
Respect for life matters. Seeing the importance of one outbreak with two tragic deaths should show why the severity of Valley Fever, with hundreds of annual deaths, needs to be better understood by the general public. Only with greater understanding will people rise up and demand action be taken.