The hospital says the infected operating rooms will not reopen until the facility is "confident" they are "safe for patient care"

By Claudia Harmata
July 03, 2019 11:25 AM
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Credit: Sage Ross/Wikimedia

On Tuesday, the Seattle Children’s Hospital revealed that one patient has died, and five others have been infected by Aspergillus mold found in their operating rooms.

The Seattle Times reports that all 14 operating rooms at the hospital were closed indefinitely this year — four on May 18, and the remaining 10 on May 24.

In a statement to PEOPLE, the hospital’s Public Relations Manager, Alyse Bernal, explained that three of the patients developed infections in 2018, while the remaining three developed the infections this year. The patient who died developed the infection in 2018.

“The six patients who developed Aspergillus infections were at higher risk of infection due to the types of procedures they had,” Bernal tells PEOPLE. “We are deeply saddened that one of the patients died after developing an infection in 2018.”

“Out of respect for privacy, we do not share details about specific patient cases,” she says. “We want to reiterate that the risk of developing an infection for patients is very low.”

According to the Center or Disease Control and Prevention, Aspergillus is a common mold that most people breathe in every day without getting sick. However, people with weakened immune systems or lung disease have a high risk of developing an infection.

Bernal also tells PEOPLE that the mold found in the operating room was caused by deficiencies in the hospital’s air handlers and purification systems — including gaps in the air filtration system, which they believe could be key contributing factors to the air quality.

Since closing down the operating rooms, the hospital has decommissioned their previous air handling and purification system and switched to a newer air handler, installed and tested a new humidification system, and sealed potential sources of air leaks in all of the operating rooms, among other improvements.

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The Seattle Times reports about 1,000 surgeries have been postponed, while other surgeries have been moved to other hospitals. Though Bernal says they will not “reopen our operating rooms when we are confident they are safe for patient care.”

The PR manager requests that if patients and families have questions, to call the hospital’s Patient and Family Relations team at 206-987-2550 Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The hospital will share additional information as it becomes available.