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Sink-Scrubbing Time

Drug-resistant bacteria in the pipes at the National Institute of Health's Clinical Center played a role in three deaths there in 2016, Stat News reports.

As they report in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by the National Human Genome Research Institute's Julia Segre conducted an investigation of a 2016 cluster of six sphingomonas infections. Segre and her colleagues cultured Sphingomonas koreensis from sinks in patients' rooms for sequencing analysis. While two isolates were unrelated, four were highly similar, having more than 99.9 percent genetic similarity, and were resistant to multiple antibiotics, suggesting they belonged to the same clonal strain. Eight older sphingomonas infection cases were also highly similar to the more recent case, which indicated to the researchers that they hailed from a common reservoir.

While the researchers found S. koreensis in patient sinks, they noted it was not present in the municipal water entering the facility. This led them to alter the chlorine levels in the water, adjust the water temperature, and replace faucets.

Stat News adds that no new sphingomonas infection have been reported at the hospital since these changes in 2016, and paper author Tara Palmore, a hospital epidemiologist at the Clinical Center, tells it that the three patients who died had other, life-threatening health factors.

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