Fungal outbreak at Children's may give rise to new laws

Revelations about the 2008, 2009 deadly fungal infection at Children's Hospital that only recently came to light have some state lawmakers calling for a change in the law.

Currently, state law does not require hospitals to report acquired infections.

Children's Hospital says when it learned there was an outbreak of the deadly fungus mucormycosis, it did a rapid investigation and notified the Centers for Disease Control and the state health department.

"There's a fairly broad list of diseases and injuries that we are obligated to report to the state of Louisiana, but this is not one of them," said Children's Medical Director Dr. John Heaton

It's a jarring fact for some given that five children died after contracting "mucor" as the infection is often called by medical practitioners.

"For parents and families to have to find out this kind of thing through the news media is extremely alarming," said Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

Until this week, it wasn't widely known that the deadly outbreak tied to the hospital's linens had occurred. FOX 8 first reported on the deaths Monday after learning that a study about the deaths was to be published in the May edition of Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Now, some state legislators are ready to look at changing the reporting law.

Bishop thinks the issue will be front and center in the next legislative session.

"We have to figure out how to get this piece done because I think it builds distrust in the general public," he said.

"Any time you have a hospital-acquired infection that causes death or is a secondary component to death, I think it is something that the public has a right to know about any hospital-acquired infections that reach that level," said state Sen. David Heitmeier.

Heitmeier, of Algiers, chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and is a practicing eye doctor. He says medical professionals will have to be at the table to get it right.

"I would have no problem filing legislation as long as we bring all the stakeholders in and achieve the goal of reporting appropriate - the appropriateness of reporting outbreaks such as this," Heitmeier said.

"If I thought reporting of hospital-acquired infections would make a difference, yes, I would support that," said Dr. Brobson Lutz. "But I'm not sure it would make a difference. What happens, oftentimes, when you mandate reporting like that, is all the tests to look for things stops, and so there's less surveillance. Because what you don't detect you don't have to report."

There are at least a couple of previously filed lawsuits related to the outbreak, but what about families that are just finding out? What are their legal rights?

"Tort law, in general, is one year in medical malpractice," said legal analyst Joe Raspanti. "You have up to three years to give you a little leeway in certain situations."

Still, Raspanti said this situation is different.

"In this situation, you fall under the category of contra non valenta, which is a Latin term that if the hospital or the doctor was hiding the ball on you and you couldn't have known because of their overt actions to keep it from you, then you don't have a prescriptive period of three anymore," he said. "So I think these people may have a cause of action because of the actions of the hospital."

Children's Hospital maintains the fungus contributed to the five deaths, but was not the primary cause.

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