University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children's Hospital confirmed on Monday 12 cases of a drug-resistant staph infection in its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), according to a statement from the hospital.
The six babies, including one who is potentially symptomatic, and six symptomatic employees who have tested positive for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are being treated, UPMC said.
MRSA causes staph infections that are resistant to some antibiotics and therefore are difficult to treat. Though a common germ, staph can sometimes cause skin or wound infections, pneumonia, blood infections and in more extreme cases, sepsis or even death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
With several tests still pending, the hospital said it will provide updates as more information becomes available.
"UPMC always follows CDC guidelines, and isolation protocols and infection control procedures are in place," the hospital stated. "We immediately notified the Allegheny County Health Department and Pennsylvania Department of Health and are collaborating to ensure the safest possible environment for patient care."
An estimated 119,247 staph bloodstream infections were seen in 2017, which resulted in 19,832 deaths, according to a recent CDC report . From 2005 to 2013, the rates of MRSA bloodstream infections diagnosed in hospitals declined on average 17.1% every year, however no significant change in infection rates has been observed since, the CDC says.
In health care settings, MRSA is usually spread by contact with an infected wound, by someone who is infected or someone with contaminated hands, according to the CDC. Patients can also become infected with MRSA when they touch contaminated bed linens, bed rails, medical equipment or other contaminated surfaces.
Unlike healthy people, hospital patients are more susceptible to MRSA due to their existing illness, having unhealed wounds or invasive medical devices (such as catheters). Certain procedures like surgery or dialysis can also increase a person's risk of developing a MRSA infection. That said, healthy people who have not visited a hospital or a nursing home can also become infected with MRSA, the CDC says.
UPMC noted that a portion of the population carry MRSA without ever being symptomatic. While one in three people carry the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in their noses, most do not get sick, according to the CDC.