According to the Los Angeles Times, a heart surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center inadvertently infected five patients during valve replacement surgeries earlier this year, causing four of the patients to need a second operation.
The infections occurred after tiny tears in the latex surgical gloves routinely worn by the doctor allowed bacteria from a skin inflammation on his hand to pass into the patients’ hearts, according to the hospital. The patients survived the second operation and are still recovering, hospital officials said.
The infections raise questions about what health conditions should prevent a surgeon from operating and how to get the best protection from surgical gloves. Surgeons with open sores or known infections are not supposed to operate, but there is no national standard on what to do if they have skin inflammation, said Rekha Murthy, medical director of the hospital’s epidemiology department. She added that there were also no national standards on types of gloves used, whether to wear double gloves or how many times surgeons should change those gloves during a procedure.
The hospital learned about the problem in June after three patients who had undergone valve replacement surgery showed signs of infection. Doctors diagnosed the patients with an infection called endocarditis. Concerned there might be a connection among the cases, epidemiologists analyzed the bacteria, staphylococcus epidermidis, and determined that it was an identical strain and therefore must have come from a single source. Epidemiologists homed in on the surgeon with the skin inflammation. The bacteria matched, and then they made a surprising discovery: microscopic tears in the gloves typically worn by surgeons after performing valve replacement surgery.