Seattle Children's Hospital reopening operating rooms after 1 dead, 5 more infected by mold

SEATTLE — Seattle Children's hospital plans to reopen operating rooms July 4 after a mold infestation led to a six-week halt to surgeries.

The mold, an airborne fungus called Aspergillus, is a very common type of spore, but medical experts say it must be filtered completely out of operating rooms because of the potential to cause dangerous infections during surgery.

Seattle Children's told KIRO 7 the patient who died had been infected last year. No further details regarding the patient were given.

The hospital said routine air samples showed levels of Aspergillus in early May and led to their decision to close four operating rooms, delaying dozens of surgeries.

On May 24, the hospital closed all 14 of its operating rooms when levels of Aspergillus were detected.

"We are deeply saddened that one of our patients died after developing an Aspergillus infection in 2018," said Seattle Children's spokesperson Alyse Bernal.

"We want to reiterate that the risk of developing an infection for patients is very low. We have worked collaboratively with outside industrial hygienists to conduct extensive assessments of our operating rooms and air handling and purification systems," Bernal said.

She added several improvements the hospital made, including fixing gaps in the air filtration systems, and using ultraviolet light to disinfect operating rooms.

On Wednesday, hospital officials said extensive work on the hospital's systems and more than a week's worth of clear air tests have led them to restart surgeries.

Seattle Children's is facing an investigation by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which found the hospital's "failure to perform timely preventative maintenance for utility systems puts patients at risk of harm from airborne contaminants."

For example, it found facilities staff failed to replace pre-filters on air handling units every three months.

"They were inspected and in the inspection the person said they look fine we aren't going to replace them," Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, Seattle Children's Chief Medical Officer, told reporters Wednesday.

This is not the first time Seattle Children's patients have contracted Aspergillus infections.

KIRO 7 found a report in the American Journal of Infection Control detailing how three cardiac patients were infected in operating rooms in 2004 and 2005.

Two of the three patients died, a 6-month-old girl and a 1-month old boy.

That report found no definitive source of Aspergillus, but called a soiled liquid nitrogen tank a possible source.

"You have to realize we went all the way from the time period you're talking all the way to 2018 without that kind of an outcome," Del Beccaro said.

Of the 1,000 postponed surgeries in the last six weeks, about 150 were moved to other hospitals.

Seattle Children’s Chief Medical Officer provided an update on Wednesday afternoon. (Watch the news conference below)

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