Officials from the Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Maryland confirmed that nine neonatal intensive care unit patients have been transferred to other hospitals. (Reuters)

The deaths of two infants at Prince George’s Hospital Center led to the detection of a deadly bacteria in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, the transfer of other infants out of the unit and questions about how such vulnerable patients were put at risk. But the bacteria, called Pseudomonas, is not new, and has struck the region before.

Here’s what we know:

1. Pseudomonas is everywhere.

The bacteria is “found widely in the environment,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can attack those with weakened immune systems, especially “patients in hospitals, especially those on breathing machines, those with devices such as catheters, and patients with wounds from surgery or from burns are potentially at risk for serious, life-threatening infections.”

2. It’s spread by health-care workers. 

Like other frightening bacteria such as MRSA, Pseudomonas is waterborne and spread on the hands of hospital staff and on tainted equipment, but can be fought with handwashing and proper hygiene. At Prince George’s Hospital Center, it was found in pipes near the NICU — although its presence hasn’t been linked to the infants’ deaths.

The CDC also advises: “Avoid hot tubs or pools that may be poorly maintained, and keep contact lenses, equipment, and solutions from becoming contaminated.”


A medical illustration of Pseudomonas. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

3. A similar case has happened before. 

In 1984, three premature babies at the University of Maryland Hospital were killed by Pseudomonas. Staff blamed faulty sterilization.

“Somebody slipped,” an administrator said at the time. ” . . . Things were not as thorough as they ought to have been.”

In 2007, the military was worried about Pseudomonas infections and other bacterial infections among more than 600 injured troops at Walter Reed. And the Food and Drug Administration was wondering about appropriate sterilization of specialized scopes used in medical procedures just last year.

“We have known about this even as early as 1983 or 1984,” one expert said.

4. There is treatment — but it might not work.  

Pseudomonas can be treated with antibiotics, but they may not be effective. As doctors warn about a “post-antibiotic age” in which once-easily treated maladies such as staph infections kill again, Pseudomonas could prove an ever-deadlier threat.

“Unfortunately, in hospitalized patients, Pseudomonas infections, like those caused by many other hospital bacteria, are becoming more difficult to treat because of increasing antibiotic resistance,” the CDC writes.