The outbreak of deadly fungus at a New Orleans hospital in 2008 killed five children, and now people are looking for answers about whether those tragic deaths could have been prevented. The children were killed by a fungus called mucormycosis, a still rare but increasingly common disease that essentially eats away the flesh of those infected. Some believe that the hospital failed to act to prevent the disease from spreading and are looking for answers about the hospital’s responsibility to patients and the community.

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The first victim died at the Children’s Hospital after an unidentified infection spread from the groin into the stomach of a newborn in August 2008. Most recently, a 10-year old girl succumbed to the disease after the fungus ate away part of her face in July 2009. Three other children also became infected around the same time and all three ultimately died after contracting the infection. Critics say that the hospital didn’t connect the cases of the outbreak until 10 months after the first one took place, which could have contributed to more infections. Mucormycosis typically only infects those with compromised immune systems and about 75,000 people die of the infection each year; scientists unsure why the rate of infection seems to be increasing.

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The infection was likely spread by linens used in the hospital that were not handled properly. According to court records, linens were placed on the same dock where medical waste was being handled. After the hospital realized that there was an outbreak they notified health officials but failed to contact families until an article appeared in a medical journal about the infections.

The hospital’s off-site launderer was the ideal breeding ground for the outbreak because the fungus thrives in moist conditions. After Hurricane Katrina, the linen service replaced their floor and drywall, but the owners never testified that the building was free of mold, further compounding the problem. The hospital has assured the public that they have changed their policies, using sterile linen for those with compromised immune systems and has pledged to reveal any future outbreaks in a timely fashion.

Via the New York Times

Lead image via Yale Rosen