Questions arise over lack of transparency in upmc mold cases

Last week, our blog discussed how recent reports have outlined how two patients who underwent heart transplant procedures at UPMC Presbyterian hospital died last October and this past June after contracting a fungal infection in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit. As shocking as this was, we also discussed how these same reports revealed that a third patient is now being treated for a fungal infection contracted after a recent lung transplant.

As if things couldn’t possibly get any worse, it was announced by officials at UPMC Montefiore hospital last Friday that a patient who had previously undergone a liver transplant there had also died after contracting a fungal infection.

 

UPMC officials have since announced that all transplant patients at these two facilities would be administered antifungal medications in the interim, and that they were working alongside everyone from the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get things under control. 

While this is encouraging to a certain degree, it nevertheless raises the question as to why both facilities waited so long to share news of these fungal outbreaks among transplant patients with not just the general public, but, more importantly, local, state and federal health officials.

The somewhat surprising answer is that while both state and federal law mandate that hospitals report otherwise communicable diseases like Legionnaire’s to health agencies, no such requirement exists in relation to fungal outbreaks.

Indeed, it wasn’t until after the third patient fell ill at UPMC Presbyterian that the fungal cases were reported to the aforementioned health agencies, while the public was only informed after news that the facility has temporarily shuttered its ICU was leaked to the press.

This naturally begs the question as to why there is no mandatory reporting requirement in relation to fungal outbreaks.

According to the CDC, the answer can be attributed to the fact that they can be difficult to diagnose and difficult to pinpoint.

“Often you need to collect tissue to determine if they have an infection. Another part of the problem is that we don’t know enough about what the incubation period is for fungus, so we don’t know when they got it in their body,” explained one CDC official.

Even acknowledging this fact, it might arguably be time to revisit this position given the devastating fallout we’ve seen firsthand here in the Pittsburgh area.

Stay tuned for updates on this developing story.

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