On Feb. 12, a six-month-old baby died from an infection she acquired during an outbreak of mold at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her name was Elizabeth.

She was the seventh patient to die from over a dozen mold outbreaks at the hospital since 2001. Her family joined a class-action lawsuit filed late last year against the hospital.

CDC points to use of long-dormant AC unit

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has now discovered the source of at least some of the outbreaks.

Before a 2018 outbreak, the hospital turned on a humidifier that was part of an air handling system for a suite of operating rooms. It was the first time the hospital had turned the unit on in more than 10 years. The system was on for “a short period.”

An outbreak of mold followed, infecting three patients and killing one.

The next year, 2019, the unit was briefly turned on again and another mold outbreak followed, infecting several more patients and resulting in the death of Elizabeth at the age of 175 days.

Hospital struggles to respond

The hospital says it has made “comprehensive improvements” in response to the CDC report. They include new air filtering systems in the operating rooms that it describes as the “highest level of filtration found in ORs today.” The hospital has also installed a completely new rooftop air handling system.

The changes come after a timeline of events that included undisclosed outbreaks, lawsuits, repeated operating room closures, more outbreaks and lawsuits, the resignation of the hospital’s chief physician, and an unsuccessful lawsuit to seal normally public health department records.

Healthcare-acquired infections are a widespread problem

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at any given time, about 1 in 25 inpatients have an infection related to hospital care. These infections lead to tens of thousands of deaths and cost the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year.