Bacterial outbreak forces closure of Toronto hospital neo-natal unit

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Women's College Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

An outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a wing of the Women's College Hospital in Toronto, Canada has resulted in the temporary closure of the hospital's High Risk Perinatal Service in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

The NICU, operated by the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, will not accept direct newborn admissions or maternal transfers, temporarily, until the outbreak is controlled. Current patients are being cared for in the NICU and Sunnybrook has created a separate area to accommodate new babies.

The closure of the NICU at Women's College Hospital is expected to put a strain on availability of high-risk neo-natal services in Ontario. According to Sunnybrook, the NICU cares for one in five of all babies born in Ontario weighing less than three pounds.

Head of Sunnybrook's department of newborn and developmental pediatrics, Dr. Michael Dunn, suggests that some patients of the NICU will need to be transferred to other facilities to allow for intensive cleaning of the area.

In a CBC interview, Dunn explains that, "all the babies who developed infections have been successfully treated, but we were not able to completely prevent the spread of the organism from one baby to another."

New patients will have to be diverted to other facilities in the province of Ontario or even out of country. Buffalo, New York in the United States may be a potential destination for some women in Ontario with high-risk pregnancies or premature babies.

According to a Sunnybrook press release, the High Risk Perinatal Service will remain closed until there are no new transmissions of the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. It further explains that outbreaks in the NICU are rare and that several measures have been put in place to keep the bacterium from spreading. The hospital has isolated babies who have symptoms and are ensuring that a specific team of clinicians only treat the affected babies.

The Sunnybrook press release suggests that, although MRSA bacteria are commonly found on the skin of newborns, the organism that has surfaced in the NICU has caused a variety of infections to the skin and eyes of the babies. The babies in the NICU are, apparently, responding to antibiotic treatment.