On March 30, 2011, it was reported that 19 patients in Alabama hospitals had become infected with bacteria called Serratia marcescens, supposedly conveyed to them through contaminated intravenous solution. Dr. Donald Williamson, Alabama’s State Health officer, announced that nine of the 19 patients infected with the bacteria had died and that it was not yet determined to be conclusive whether the bacteria was the cause of the nine patients’ deaths but that the bacteria was a common factor. The bacteria can be found in tap water and in bathrooms.
The origin of the nutritional supplement called Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) was the Meds IV Pharmacy in Birmingham, Alabama, which compounded medications that were not previously pre-mixed. That pharmacy is now closed and Dr. Williamson believes that the problem in Alabama is contained. "The supplement is typically administered to patients whose gastrointestinal systems are not working properly, including those undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from major surgery. The mix is delivered to hospitals in containers presumed to be sterile and has a limited shelf life."
The bacteria were found in patients in six different Alabama hospitals who ranged in age from 38 to 94. The first incidences occurred in January and February. Thirty-five (35%) percent of patients who received TPN from Meds IV Pharmacy were infected with the bacteria. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently conducting an investigation into the contamination outbreak to determine whether the cause of the contamination was a "breakdown in the manufacturing process" or something else.
The words, "presumed to be sterile" take on greater import.