Seattle Children’s hospital is again dealing with a mold in its operating rooms that has dogged the hospital for nearly two decades and has been linked to seven deaths.
There are no known new illnesses connected to the latest discovery of Aspergillus. The hospital self-reported the detection of “low-levels” of Aspergillus to the state Department of Health (DOH) on May 12, attributing it to an issue with its ventilation system, said spokeswoman Jessica Baggett.
DOH said the mold was discovered by routine air-testing done by the hospital. The agency hasn’t decided whether to proceed with an unannounced investigation, Baggett said.
Children’s didn’t identify the mold as Aspergillus, contrary to what DOH described, the hospital said late Monday. It was discovered in some of the hospital’s operating rooms and an equipment storage room by a daily air test.
“Daily testing has not detected any Aspergillus fumigatus spores, which is the species of Aspergillus associated with our previously confirmed” infections, hospital spokesperson Katherine Porada wrote in an email.
Several of the operating rooms will be closed for several weeks for evaluation, which will include input from external engineering experts, Porada said.
Aspergillus is a common mold that most people regularly breathe without getting sick, but hospital patients, especially patients with lung disease or weakened immune systems — particularly organ- or stem-cell transplant patients — are at higher risk of developing Aspergillosis.
Aspergillus has long bedeviled the venerated Seattle hospital. Since 2001, seven patients have died and 14 patients have had Aspergillus infections. Last fall, Children’s Chief Executive Jeff Sperring said they only recently connected the issues dating back two decades to problems with the air-filtration system serving its operating rooms.
During the past year, the hospital has installed a new air-handling unit and put high-efficiency particulate air — or HEPA — filters in its 14 operating rooms.
Past unannounced investigations haven’t always caught problems at a time Children’s was testing the air in its operating rooms for Aspergillus.
A baby who had a tube surgically inserted into its heart on Oct. 1, 2019, came down with a surgical-site Aspergillus infection, according to a DOH records.
Air-sampling data in the hospital’s operating room didn’t show any positive results for Aspergillus since it had reopened all of its operating rooms on July 4 last year, after the operating rooms were closed when Aspergillus was detected last spring, according to an investigation by DOH.
But in early November, after testing again found Aspergillus in Children’s air samples, Children’s closed its operating rooms.
The state’s investigation shows that Children’s monitoring — while more than what is required by law — failed to detect Aspergillus in its operating rooms for more than a month after the baby’s surgery, in which the baby boy apparently contracted the infection.
The family of the baby that contracted the infection after the Oct. 1, 2109, surgery filed a lawsuit last month. That lawsuit comes in addition to a suit filed in December in King County Superior Court on behalf of four children or their estates, seeking class-action status for patients who were sickened by Aspergillus at Children’s between 2005 and 2017. A fifth patient was added to that complaint in January.