Md. hospital says bacterium not linked to infant deaths; NICU temporarily closed

UPDATE 8/9/2016 7:50 p.m.: Hospital officials said Tuesday evening that there isn’t any evidence linking the bacteria to two recent infant deaths in the unit.

WASHINGTON — The Prince George’s County Hospital Center’s neonatal intensive care unit where three patients tested positive for a potentially deadly bacterium will remain closed for at least the next several days as health officials work to disinfect plumbing that leads into the unit.

However, hospital officials said Tuesday evening that there isn’t any evidence linking the bacterium to two recent infant deaths in the unit.

“To date, we have no data that says that there’s a relationship between the deaths of those infants and this bacteria,” said Dr. Carnell Cooper, the hospital’s chief medical officer, during a Tuesday evening news conference. “We will continue to do our due diligence. What is most important to us is the safety and care of our patients.”

Cooper said patients in the NICU are already typically “critically ill with a number of things that put them at risk of dying” and said the hospital would continue to investigate the two recent infant deaths.

Earlier on Tuesday, the hospital confirmed three babies in the unit had tested positive for the presence of the bacterium Pseudomonas.

The bacterium, which is common in water systems, can cause severe illness and death especially in individuals with compromised immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the babies who tested positive are not showing any signs of active infection, according to the hospital.

The bacterium was discovered through routine nose swabs that were performed on the infants, said Sherry Perkins, the hospital’s chief operating officer. The discovery of the “cluster” of cases “was cause for concern” and prompted hospital officials to shutter the unit and transfer nine current patients to another hospital, Perkins said.

The hospital is still investigating the source of the bacterium and has contracted with a water company to test water samples, said Dr. Joan Hebden, an epidemiologist with the hospital. Water fed into the hospital undergoes routine filtration through the municipal water system, Hebden said.

The NICU is the only unit where patients have tested positive for the bacteria, and officials “do not have any concerns currently about water elsewhere in the building,” she said.

The hospital is working with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, county health officials and its own epidemiologists, said Perkins, the hospital COO. Treatment of the pipes that lead directly to the NICU will take several days, she said. Before reopening the unit, the hospital will need additional time to retest the water.

Officials stopped using the water in the unit and admitting high-risk infants last Thursday, Perkins said. Hospital officials contacted state and county health officials on Sunday, she said.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report. 

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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