Seattle Children's: Infections, including 6 deaths, likely caused by air systems

SEATTLE — The CEO of Seattle Children's Hospital said Monday that five deaths between 2001 and 2014 from surgical site infections from Aspergillus mold were likely caused by the air handling systems that serve the operating rooms.

Seattle Children's said it has had seven Aspergillus surgical site infections since the summer of 2018. One of those patients also died.

The presence of the mold closed all 14 of the hospital's main operating rooms in May. At that time, surgeries were halted for six weeks.

Last week, routine air test results again revealed the presence of Aspergillus in the air in three operating rooms and two procedural areas at the main campus.

Hospital CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring said in a statement Monday that it is believed that there are connections between the recent and past infections. Between 2001 and 2014, seven patients developed Aspergillus surgical site infections.  Five of those patients died.

"At the time, we believed most of these were isolated infections. However, we now believe that these infections were likely caused by the air handling systems that serve our operating rooms. Looking back, we should have recognized these connections sooner, As CEO, I hold myself— and Seattle Children's —to a higher standard," Sperring said.  Watch the video of Sperring's news conference at the bottom of this story.

Scroll down to continue reading

More news from KIRO 7


Earlier this month, the hospital initially planned on having ten operating rooms closed for up to five days, but decided to take what it called an "extraordinary measure" -- to close most operating rooms until the end of January while in-room filtration systems are installed.

"After careful consideration and in consultation with outside experts, we have decided to proceed with the immediate installation of custom in-room HEPA filtration in 10 operating rooms and two equipment storage rooms, and to continue with the planned installation of the new air handling system," the hospital said in a Thursday news release.

The hospital said the room-by-room installation was previously scheduled to be completed by July 2020, but officials decided to speed up the work in light of the mold problem.

The operating rooms that remain open already have the new filtration system in place.

>>Seattle Children's Hospital kept info about deadly mold under wraps, emails show.

Seattle Children's said Aspergillus is a common mold that's often present in the air we breathe. But people with weakened immune systems, such as children in hospital for surgery, could be at risk.

>>Seattle Children's Hospital closes all main operating rooms to mitigate mold issue

"HEPA is an extremely effective filtration system that removes more than 99 percent of particles from the air passing through the filter. Installing in-room HEPA filtration requires custom-building a system for each operating room – an extraordinary measure – but one that we know is the right thing to do for our patients and families," a hospital statement said.

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

During the temporary closure of operating rooms, Seattle Children's will perform surgeries at partner hospitals including Harborview, Swedish, UW Medical Center and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital.

Patients and families with questions can contact the Seattle Children's Patient and Family Relations team at 206-987-2550 or family.feedback@seattlechildrens.org.