Seattle Children's Hospital operating rooms shut down after fungus discovery

SEATTLE — Operating rooms at Seattle Children’s Hospital were shut down after discovery of Aspergillus, a fungus that can cause infections, hospital staff said Tuesday.

"Last weekend, air tests detected Aspergillus in several operating rooms and equipment storage rooms at our main campus," hospital spokeswoman Alyse Bernal said in a statement. "Aspergillus is a common mold often present in the air we breathe. However, in rare instances it can cause complications for surgical patients. Though we believe the risk to our patients is very low, we will be contacting our surgical patients who may have been exposed.

The fungus postponed between 20 and 50 surgeries per day, and 3,000 patients were being notified, hospital staff told KIRO 7.

“We want most people to know  that the risk is incredibly small for the overwhelming majority of patients,” Seattle Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Mark Del Beccaro said. “Even… for patients that are at a high risk category, even for those patients, the risk is low.”

A patient hotline was activated at 4 p.m. Tuesday. That number is 206-987-1061.

"Patient safety is our top priority, and we are taking this situation very seriously," Bernal said. "All affected operating rooms have been closed and will remain so until we are confident that the areas are clear of Aspergillus. We are postponing or diverting some surgical cases and moving others to our Bellevue campus. We will also perform some cases in areas of our hospital that have been determined to be clear of Aspergillus, like our cardiac catheterization facility. We are working with an outside industrial hygienist to investigate the source of the Aspergillus and implement mitigation measures. We have also reported the situation to the Washington State Department of Health."

Most people breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without getting sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“However, people with weakened immune systems or lung diseases are at a higher risk of developing health problems due to Aspergillus," according to the CDC's site. "The types of health problems caused by Aspergillus include allergic reactions, lung infections, and infections in other organs.”

Seattle Children's Hospital did 11,498 outpatient surgeries and 4,586 inpatient surgeries across their facilities in the 2018 fiscal year, according to hospital statistics.

Seattle Children’s has roughly 50,000 annual emergency department visits and 38,000 urgent care visits across all locations.

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