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Bacterial infection linked to contaminated syringes finds way to South Jersey

Bacterial infection linked to contaminated syringes finds way to South Jersey

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At least 10 people in Atlantic County and three in Ocean County have contracted a complicated bacterial infection tied to an outbreak from contaminated medical supplies, state health officials said.

So far, New Jersey has seen 52 cases of B. cepacia infection linked to a Texas company’s contaminated saline flush syringes, part of a multistate outbreak being investigated by state and federal health officials.

The state Department of Health issued alerts and warnings last month to long-term health care facilities, such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, about the possible contamination from syringes made by Nurse Assist.

“This is a continuing investigation,” said Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

Officials urged providers to discontinue the use of those syringes.

The first two state cases occurred at long-term care facilities in Bergen County in early October. There are no confirmed cases in Cape May or Cumberland counties.

All New Jersey cases were found among 19 facilities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The New Jersey Department of Health declined to identify the facilities.

Other states with cases include 55 in New York, 26 in Pennsylvania, 12 in Maryland and four in Delaware.

Nurse Assist issued a voluntary recall Oct. 4 of all of its unexpired 3-, 5- and 10-milliliter intravenous flush syringes distributed to providers between Feb. 16 and Sept. 19.

A CDC investigation into the Nurse Assist products is ongoing.

Flush syringes are used to clear out intravenous lines with saline to keep the area clean and sterile. Health officials suspect these prefilled saline flushes were contaminated with B. cepacia, a group of bacteria that can be found in soil and water.

Dr. Manish Trivedi, an infectious disease specialist and chairman of infection prevention at AtlantiCare, said the bacteria can cause fevers, chills, clammy skin, shortness of breath, abnormal heart rate and other symptoms.

If symptoms reach a certain level, patients are often sent to the hospital, where doctors perform a blood culture to identify a bacteria and its strain.

“This infection is not very common,” he said. “It typically affects patients with weakened immune systems or underlying lung diseases. In this (outbreak), not all patients who were exposed had issues, but some had preexisting conditions and were affected.”

While B. cepacia itself does not normally cause pain, Trivedi said the bacterial infection can exacerbate preexisting conditions or illnesses in patients that can lead to pain.

Health officials said B. cepacia can be resistant to many common antibiotics, making it tricky to treat. Doctors may first aggressively treat the infection with antibiotics in the first 24 hours, Trivedi said, before identifying the non-resistant antibiotics.

Treatment varies depending on where the bacteria are isolated. For these bloodstream cases, Trivedi said it can take anywhere between 14 and 28 days to fully recover. After that, most patients should have no long-term effects.

A total of six people with cases of the infection have died in New York and Pennsylvania, but health officials cannot determine whether the deaths were caused by the B. cepacia infection, underlying health conditions or another cause, according to the CDC.

“What ended up happening was that the CDC, state and county health departments got involved quickly and targeted where this bacteria was coming from,” Trivedi said. “Once identified, they did an excellent job at removing the sources.”


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