10 newborns infected with MRSA at UC Irvine Medical Center

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- A dangerous outbreak of a superbug infected 10 newborn babies at one of the largest hospitals in Orange County, raising serious concerns.

UC Irvine Medical Center confirmed Thursday its neonatal intensive care unit contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a superbug also known as MRSA.

The superbug is a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, which makes it incredibly difficult to treat.

The 10 babies contracted MRSA between August 2016 and March 2017, the hospital said in a statement released this week.

Hospital officials said the babies with MRSA were treated and all survived. None of them have active infections.

Four staff members also tested positive for the clonal MRSA strain in January, during a process in which an antiseptic soap and ointment were used to reduce the presence of MRSA on the skin and in the nose. The hospital said all were treated.

One of the two NICU units was closed for disinfection as the cause of the outbreak remained a mystery.

In a statement, hospital officials said they were working toward more preventative measures, "UC Irvine health has escalated infection prevention measures to minimize the likelihood of transmission within the healthcare environment and among patients, healthcare workers and visitors such as family members."

Marian Hollingsworth, who filed a complaint about the way the outbreak was handled with the state, called The Los Angeles Times and alerted reporters about the outbreak dating back to August. She said hospital officials should have been more forthcoming to pregnant women admitted to the hospital for births.

Spokesman John Murray said suggestions the hospital was not forthcoming about information were "completely untrue" because it was working with Orange County health officials since August and informed the California Department of Public Health.

"Both agencies reviewed our infection prevention plans and signed off on our efforts," Murray said.

In addition, Orange County Health Care Agency officials said they do not believe a public announcement of the situation at UCI would have helped lower the rate of infections, according to Jessica Good, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Tips for family members to help reduce the likelihood of colonization or infection in the NICU include: wearing soft cotton gowns and gloves when interacting with babies, cleaning cellphones and mobile devices with alcohol wipes and placing them into plastic bags upon entry into the NICU and prior to handling babies, and engaging in decolonization.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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