CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A bacteria strain you probably haven't heard of has been causing problems for healthcare facilities nationwide. When Eyewitness News started investigating, we discovered that North Carolina’s department of health isn't even tracking it. Multi-drug resistant acinetobacter is often called Iraqibacter because of the number of soldiers returning with it from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can be deadly, but hospitals still don't have to report cases to the department of health.
Amy Fix has seen what acinetobacter can do. Her father died in a Missouri hospital after acquiring the infection.
“I think somebody needs to monitor this,” Fix said.
Multi-drug resistant acinetobacter has been present in hospitals for years, but experts say it's becoming tougher to treat. In some cases no antibiotics work.
“What makes it scary I think is that it's resistant to more and more drugs now,” Dr. Katie Passaretti said.
Passaretti is the head of infection prevention at Carolinas HealthCare System, which sees five to 10 cases of the infection a year at Carolinas Medical Center. She said they haven't had any issues with people contracting the infection while in their facilities, but other North Carolina hospitals have.
“Four or five years ago, we had a problem with a strain of acinetobacter causing infections in our hospital,” Dr. Christopher Ohl at Wake Forest Baptist in Winston-Salem said.
He said the bacteria infects the sickest of the sick. Eyewitness News asked if some people came into the hospital for other conditions and contracted the infection there.
“Sometimes it would be people who get the infection while in the hospital, people who had been in the ICU for weeks or here hospitalized for other medical problems for a long time,” Ohl said.
At the peak, the hospital had 30 to 35 infections. Now there's a handful a year, none acquired in the hospital. Ohl says they've been aggressive, and they have some of the best technology in the nation for identifying infections.
At the out-of-state hospital where her father died, Fix said no one even knew what infection he had until a week after he was gone.
“I was just so angry, so angry that nobody knew that my dad even had this until it was too late,” Fix said. “I contacted the state health department and was told the hospital didn't even have to report my dad's infection to them and that was alarming.”
Eyewitness News investigated North Carolina rules, and found out hospitals aren't required to report the infections to the state health department, even though the department admits acinetobacter poses "a serious threat to public health.".
Eyewitness News asked Ohl if the department should be tracking the infections.
“The problem is there's a lot of bad boy bacteria,” Ohl said. “And if you start reporting them all then it becomes what are you doing about it?”
Ohl says because hospitals track the infections, having the state do the same doesn't help in treating patients. But Fix said those numbers belong on a state health department website so patients and their families are aware.
North Carolina's Department of Health told us, "There are no current plans to add acinetobacter to the list of reportable conditions,” but they did say they have efforts in place to reduce healthcare-associated infections. We asked local hospitals for their data on acinetobacter infections so you can compare them:
Area Hospitals for Comparison:
Carolinas HealthCare System: CMC has 5-10 cases a year, others have 0
- No record of a patient contracting the infection from the hospital itself
- Strict isolation procedures to prevent any spread
Novant Health System: 2-3 cases a year throughout the system's facilities
- Rarely sees resistant types, but when they do, the patients are usually coming from other facilities
- The system is alerted by the referring hospital.
CaroMont: 1 case
- CaroMont was unable to determine the origin
- Also keeps track of all infections/organisms related to devices, lines and surgical procedures
Salisbury VA : 1 patient came in with it in the last year
- Patient was treated for it successfully
- As of February 4th, the hospital would not answer questions about the last five years or whether the hospital had any record of a patient acquiring acinetobacter in the facility