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UF Health Shands burn unit closed for renovations following bacterial outbreak

6:21 PM, Jul 31, 2013   |    comments
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Seven patients in the UF Health Shands Hospital burn unit have tested positive for a bacterium that can lead to a fatal infection, according to the hospital's chief medical officer, Dr. Timothy Flynn.  

The infections were documented between March and July 22.

The bacterium, acinetobacter baumannii, lives on surfaces and in soil and can spread through human contact or medical devices.

Although the hospital has not yet determined the cause or date of when the bacterium was introduced to the hospital, molecular testing suggests the spread came from a single source.

"While the bacterium does not usually cause illness in healthy people, it can cause infection in severely immune-compromised individuals, such as burn patients. Nationally and internationally, this organism is recognized as a major cause of infections in hospitalized patients," said Rosanna Passaniti, Shands Media Relations Coordinator, UF Health Communications.

The patients who tested positive were moved to 'other isolation areas' within the hospital and patients who tested negative are being treated at other intensive care units. 

Cassandra Null, 22, of Atlantic Beach was treated at the Shands Gainseville burn unit when she was five and remembers how delicate her recovery was.

"You can't be outside in the humid, like you can't sweat, you can't do sports, you cant workout, you can't be around cigarette smoke basically there's a lot of limitations," said Null.

17 years ago Null was playing with a lighter while her mom was in the other room. She accidentally lit her clothes on fire and had third degree burns on 32 percent of her body.

"My sister came into her [Null's mother] room and told her the couch was on fire, that's what she thought she said, but it was 'Cassie's on fire' and so my mom ran and put me out," said Null.

Since then, she's had surgeries to graft skin from other areas of her body to her chest, left arm, face, and legs. After one of Null's skin grafts, she says she became infected with mrsa, a superbug bacteria known to be resistant to antibiotics.

"I had a fever, it didn't look right. We called Shriners and then immediately I went to the hospital and they gave me IV antibiotics and then they flew me back up to Cincinnati within 24 hours of leaving the hospital because it developed so quickly," said Null.

The hospital says infection control experts are investigating the cases and are taking the necesessary steps to stop the spread of the bacterium. There are currently three burn patients being treated at UF Health Shands in Gainesville.

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