Highlands Today (March 7, 2015):

Infections, deaths six years ago brought to light in Highlands County.

This article in Highlands Today provides some new, important details of a nightmarish bacterial outbreak at a hospital in Highlands County, FL, that began in 2008, although much about this outbreak remains sketchy even today, 7 years later.

During this outbreak, 70 people were exposed to an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria in Highlands County between 2008-2009. Fifteen of these infected patients died.

None of these infected patients may know about this outbreak and its likely cause.

A few more of the fine details of this superbug outbreak are now coming to light, but, according to the Highlands Today, “only after the Florida Department of Health disclosed it following a similar outbreak in California” that became public earlier in 2015.

Click here to read about this superbug outbreak at Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

Also according to this newspaper: “Even with that disclosure, most of the circumstances remain shrouded. The department hasn’t released where the deaths occurred, although a publication mentioned one former patient from Highlands County died after being transferred to a Tampa hospital.”

The Highlands Today adds: “Authorities also will not say where the people were infected.”

A scientific report

A scientific paper documenting this outbreak in Florida linked it to a type of gastrointestinal (GI) endoscope — a side-viewing duodenoscopes — contaminated with the “superbug” known as CRE.

But this paper states that only 7 patients were infected, one of whom died, the Florida Department of Health’s finding that 70 patients were affected, with 15 dying, between 2008-2009 notwithstanding.

The reasons for this apparent discrepancy between the Florida Department of Health’s assessment of the impact of this outbreak in Florida and that of this scientific report remain unclear.

Legal Reviews for Patients, Hospitals, Manufacturers:  Click here to read about Dr. Muscarella’s expertise and legal assessments of the causes of healthcare-associated infections, including “superbug” outbreaks linked to contaminated GI endoscopes and other reusable medical equipment.


G. Steve Huard (interim press secretary for the Florida Department of Health):

  • “All information contained in laboratory reports, notifiable disease or condition case reports and in related epidemiological investigatory notes is confidential as provided in (a section of the law).”
  • All of the infected or colonized patients “had a history of endoscopic procedures at a facility in Highlands County.”
  • Following the outbreak, the Florida Health Department “met multiple times with Highlands County hospital staff to discuss the outbreak and disease control strategies.”
  • “The department’s communications efforts are primarily targeted at professional audiences responsible for disease control in these settings (health care facilities).”

Highlands Regional Medical Center:

  • Once Highlands Regional Medical Center confirmed that at least one of its patients was infected with CRE infection in 2009, it “took immediate and appropriate action by voluntarily and self-reporting to the state of Florida.”

Lawrence Muscarella, PhD:

  • It’s unclear “whether the people exposed to CRE in Highlands County, but did not display symptoms, were notified of that exposure.”
  • “There’s no legal requirement (to notify impacted patients of a superbug outbreak).”
  • “Just because a person doesn’t display symptoms, doesn’t mean that in the future, that the person may not be contagious. If the superbug is in the body and if the person’s immune system becomes compromised, that leaves the door open to infection, which could make a person contagious.”
  • “If a person finds out they are positive, they can then discuss with the doctor whether hey need treatment, or possibly just to be monitored.”

Posted: 3/10/2015, Rev A.

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