US federal health officials said Tuesday medical syringes contaminated with bacteria might have caused blood infection in scores of people.
About 40 persons have been sickened in Illinois and Texas, including 20 outpatients from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. But no deaths were reported.
Rush doctors traced the infections earlier this month to heparin-filled syringes the patients used during home treatment for cancer and other ailments. Heparin is a blood thinner, and the syringes are used to clear out catheters and intravenous lines.
The infections were caused by bacteria called Serratia marcescens (pronounced Sur-AY'-she-uh mar-SUH'-sens), found in a single batch of heparin-filled syringes made by a company called Sierra Pre-Filled, news agency AP reports.
Syringes from that batch also were sent to Colorado, Florida and Pennsylvania but infections so far have turned up only in Illinois and Texas, said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The infections can cause fever and chills. They can be serious but generally respond well to antibiotics.
There have been no known deaths, Srinivasan said. Of the 20 Rush outpatients who fell ill, 14 required hospitalization. All responded quickly to antibiotic treatment and only one remained hospitalized Tuesday, said Dr. John Segreti, hospital epidemiologist.
The president of Sierra Pre-Filled, Dushyant Patel, said the company was working with the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration and has voluntarily recalled the implicated lot. "There's nothing out there anymore," Patel said.
Srinivasan said the CDC was working to make sure doctors were alerted about the contamination and that more cases could surface.
"Our highest priority is to ensure that all of those cases that occur are identified," he said.
Patients who think they used affected syringes should contact their doctors, Srinivasan said.
He said bacteria were found in fluid from the pre-filled syringes but it was uncertain if the original contamination was in the heparin, in the saline used to dilute the drug, or the syringes themselves.
"We'll be working to perform genetic fingerprinting on the bacteria to confirm a link between bacteria in the syringes and the case patients," Srinivasan said.
Heparin is the same drug linked to overdoses accidentally given to actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins. In that case the heparin was made by Deerfield, Ill.-based Baxter Healthcare Corp. The twins appeared to be doing well, a lawyer for the Quaids said earlier this month.