PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Department of Health has confirmed that 52 patients recently treated at Arkansas Cancer Institute have tested positive for a previously unknown bacterial infection, and more than 100 others are at risk.
Three patients who tested positive for the infection have died, though it’s unknown whether their deaths were caused by the bacteria or other illnesses, the AP reports. The Pine Bluff treatment center outbreak was discovered among people who have ports, or implanted devices that give access to the bloodstream to administer medication or help draw blood.
“We expect these numbers to rise above 52, but how much more, we don’t know,” said Arkansas state epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow.
Those identified as being at risk have been screened and are awaiting results, he said. Patients who tested positive for the bacteria will undergo a two-week course of antibiotics and monitoring, according to Haselow.
“I think it’s really important for the public to understand that this is not a general public risk,” Haselow said. “Further, we do not believe that this risk continues among those who are newly seen at (Arkansas Cancer Institute).”
Early testing show that the bacteria have not been easily passed from person to person, and researchers don’t believe people with healthy immune systems are at risk. The bacteria have been named FVL-2018-32.
Arkansas Cancer Institute administrator Michael Legate said the incident was traced to a saline flush process for ports, which has been used for 27 years without issue. He said the specific source of contamination is still under investigation.
Patients who are potentially affected are those who had their port accessed at the facility between March 22 and Sept. 11.
“The main takeaway is that this is not communicable, and there’s no new cases, no new exposure,” Legate said.