Rare Bacteria Outbreak Hits South Carolina Hospital
The rare but troubling outbreak of bacterial infections in a Greenville, SC hospital is a symptom of yet another emerging disease. Mycobacterium abscessus is a rapidly growing mycobacteria (RGM), a distance relative of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. M. abscessus was first described 1953 and later identified, in 1992, as a distinct strain of RGM. Mycobacteria can be found in soil, dust, rocks, bioaerosols and water, including in harsh environments (e.g., low nutrients, low pH and temperature extremes).
Research has shown M. abscessus to be present in water supplies, rainwater basins and swimming pools, as well as in hospital water, dialysis, surgical equipment and endoscopy cleaning equipment. M. abscessus is relatively resistant to standard disinfectants and to many antibiotics. Because of this, it has become the focus of research on a global scale.
Infection with M. abscessus is usually caused by injections of substances contaminated with the bacterium or through invasive medical procedures employing contaminated equipment or material. Infection can also occur after accidental injury where the wound is contaminated by soil. There is very little risk of transmission from person to person.
Because M. abscessus is all around us, understanding preventive measures is important. These measures are also classic. CDC recommends anyone who touches or cares for the infected site should wash their hands carefully with soap and water. Patients should follow all instructions given by their healthcare provider following any surgery or medical procedure. Avoid receiving procedures or injections by unlicensed persons.
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