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Seattle Children's Hospital
Credit: KUOW Photo / John Ryan

Seattle Children's Hospital says fungus killed 1, infected 5 more

Fungus at Seattle Children’s Hospital has killed one person and infected five others, a hospital spokesperson confirmed Tuesday night.

The hospital said the person who died was infected in 2018 by Aspergillus fumigata and died this year. Two others were infected in 2018, and the others were infected this year.

The Seattle Times first reported the death.

The hospital closed all of its operating rooms while it tried to get rid of the fungus. But in a news conference Wednesday, Dr. Mark A. Del Beccaro, the hospital's chief medical officer, said the operating rooms would reopen on Thursday after cleaning, along with installation of new air filtration systems.

After an investigation by the state Department of Health, Medicare officials have warned the hospital that it is out of compliance and could be terminated from the program in September.

The investigation report says:

  • The hospital failed to change some air filters every three months as required. Some filters were not changed for close to a year. Del Beccaro said the filters were initial filters designed to keep out large particles, not finer filters that would keep out mold spores.
  • The building operations manager told investigators that the department was not inspecting or calibrating equipment used to monitor filter performance, air pressure, or airflow rates.
  • The director of infection prevention told investigators that the hospital was not monitoring the water system or testing for Legionella bacteria.

The report said that the hospital's governing body failed to provide effective oversight and that the hospital's quality control and infection control was inadequate.

(You can read the full Medicare investigation report below.)

Federal and state officials said the hospital first discovered fungus last year, but thought cleaning had cleared up the problem.

But the fungus was detected again in mid-May this year, when several operating rooms were shut down for cleaning. The rest of the hospital’s 14 operating rooms were later closed.

It's not clear how much time elapsed between the diagnosis of the first cases and the latest detection of the fungus. Del Beccaro said the person who died was infected in 2018 but died in 2019. He did not say when a diagnosis was made.

He also said some of the cases were not obvious until the hospital reported the fungus to the state Department of Health.

The hospital said it is deep cleaning the rooms and replacing equipment for air purification and humidification.

Aspergillus is harmless to most people, and we breathe it daily.

The hospital said the patients who were infected were at a higher risk because of the types of procedures they had. For now surgeries for the kids at the hospital are being postponed or the patients are being sent to a different facility.

The hospital spokesperson said operating rooms will not reopen until officials are confident they are safe.

Seattle Children’s has also been dealing with a case of measles. The patient came into the emergency department there last week.