From 1 February through 12 October 1990, 27 blood cultures processed at Shiprock Hospital were positive for Enterobacter cloacae; only 3 had been reported in the preceding 12 months. Twenty (74%) of the cultures were obtained from patients without clinical evidence of gram-negative septicemia. The increase in E. cloacae-positive blood cultures was temporally associated with the introduction of a new blood culturing system. To evaluate potential risk factors for an E. cloacae-positive blood culture (case-culture), we conducted a case-control study. Case-cultures were compared with 81 randomly selected cultures that were processed during the epidemic period and that were not positive for E. cloacae (controls). Because several factors suggested the possibility of pseudoinfection, we limited our analysis to the 20 blood cultures that appeared to be contaminants. Blood samples received in the laboratory during the midnight shift (5 of 20 [25%] versus 5 of 81 [6%]; odds ratio, 5.1; 95% confidence intervals, 1.01 to 24.6; P = 0.02) or present in the incubator with other E. cloacae-positive samples (17 of 20 [85%] versus 29 of 81 [36%]; odds ratio, 10.2, 95% confidence interval, 2.6 to 57.3; P < 0.001) were at increased risk for contamination. During mock experiments of the procedures for processing blood samples for culture, several breaks in aseptic technique and leakage from the blood culturing system were observed. Cultures of samples obtained from several environmental sites in the laboratory and the hand washings of two laboratory technicians grew E. cloacae. Plasmid and restriction enzyme analyses of E. cloacae isolates recovered from the patients' blood cultures, the two technicians' hand washings, and environmental sites in the laboratory indicated that all had identical plasmid profiles. Our findings suggest that the breaks in aseptic technique and the environmental contamination that occurred in association with the use of the new blood culturing system resulted in contamination of the blood cultures. This outbreak highlights the importance of routine environmental cleaning, periodic quality control assessments, and adherence to aseptic practices in clinical laboratories, particularly when new methods or equipment are introduced and/or new personnel are hired.
Pearson ML, Pegues DA, Carson LA, O’Donnell R, Berger RH, Anderson RL, Jarvis WR
J. Clin. Microbiol. 1993 Oct;31(10):2599-603