The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) announced they are investigating two deaths during the past year in patients in the UPMC Presbyterian’s cardiothoracic intensive care unit.

Rhizopus fungus Public domain image/Agong1
Rhizopus fungus
Public domain image/Agong1

18 patients have been moved from the unit because of the discovery of mold in some parts of the unit.

According to Tami Minnier, UPMC Chief Quality Officer:

A careful and methodical review of our records and analysis of the fungus show that two previous transplant patients who stayed in the same room on that unit had fungal infections that may have been related to this mold: one in October 2014 had lichtheimia and one in June 2015 had rhizomucor. Unfortunately, those patients subsequently passed away. Although the role that the mold may have played in their deaths cannot be definitively determined, we have notified their families of the suspected link to the mold in our CTICU.

Both these mold species are part of Zygomycetes phylum of fungi.

Zygomycosis, or mucormycosis, is an acute fungal infection from a number of genera of molds, Rhizopus species being the most frequently encountered.

Infections with these fungi typically cause disease that is rapidly progressive, destructive and associated with a high fatality rate of 50% of higher.

It is most prevalent in those with a weakened immune system or other debilitating disease like diabetes, immunosuppression after a transplant or from certain drugs, such as some used to treat cance, but it can also infect those that are healthy but badly injured.

These fungi have an affinity for blood vessels, and cause thrombosis, infarction and tissue necrosis.

It is not communicable from person-to-person.

Minnier noted the investigation into the cause of this mold continues, and the unit remains closed until we can ensure that our patients are safe to return. After the initial concern was raised on Sept. 3, we found mold inside the wall of one room—the same one where all three affected patients were cared for. Later, mold was found in some toilets in other rooms, which led to the complete shutdown of the unit.  We do not believe that the mold in the toilets was the same kind as in the patients. What caused any of this mold in the first place is still to be determined.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

Follow @bactiman63