Source of bacteria outbreak identified

HOMEWOOD, AL (WBRC) - Bacteria that affected 19 Alabama hospital patients and possibly lead to the death of nine, initiated on a faucet at the Homewood-based Meds IV pharmacy, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Samples of the bacteria, Serratia marcescens, were identified on a sink faucet in the pharmacy. Water from that tap was used along with soap to clean out a container used to create an amino acid compound used to create TPN, the intravenous food supply given to the affected patients.

The bacterium was also found on an impeller, a large stirring instrument used to mix up the amino acid compound.

Finding Serratia bacterium on a faucet is not uncommon, according to State Health Officer Dr. Don Williams. What's troubling, he said, is that the filter used to sterilize the product failed and this is where the real problem lies.

Williams said in a press conference Thursday it was his department's first experience dealing with an outbreak of this kind and is working with the FDA to determine if washing containers with unsterile water is within federal guidelines.

Williams confirmed that there is no risk to any other patients going forward and the problem is absolutely limited to the TPN obtained by Meds IV. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention polled other states to see if anyone else was seeing similar problems with the bacteria and TPN. The CDC found the problem was limited to Alabama, and only to the patients who received TPN from Meds IV.

"There is nothing to suggest that any of the infections were associated with any pharmacy other than Meds IV," Williams said. "Based on everything that we know, it is clearly linked to the compounding of TPN in that pharmacy."  

The ADPH has identified the weak point in the chain of infection, but is still investigating what went wrong in the sterilization process.

Last Friday afternoon, a Fox 6 News crew saw several federal agents moving boxes out of the Meds IV pharmacy on West Oxmoor Road.

A Shelby County judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing Meds IV from destroying any evidence which could be used in a lawsuit. Shelby Baptist Medical Center, one hospital where an infected patient died after using TPN sold by the pharmacy, sued Meds IV.

Judge Hewitt Conwill will hear a motion Friday from Meds IV employees who wish to lift the restraining order so they may retrieve other materials from the location.

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