Back to previous page

As superbug spread, NIH failed in its duty to protect

Regarding the Aug. 23 front-page article “Deadly bacteria stalked hospital”:

We were dismayed by the National Institutes of Health’s flimsy attempt to defend its hospital’s failure to alert the public earlier about the 2011 outbreak of devastating, multidrug-resistant Klebsiella infections. An NIH spokeswoman noted that reporting such infections is not mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and played down such outbreaks as being “too common to be newsworthy.”

NIH had an ethical obligation to inform the public about this dangerous threat to public health. The extraordinary measures implemented by the hospital to combat the outbreak and the fact that the NIH’s infection-control specialist was “horrified” upon identifying the second patient with the superbug infection last year reflect the serious threat the outbreak posed.

By not alerting the public sooner, the NIH denied patients considering inpatient care at its hospital the opportunity to weigh the risk of exposure to this superbug against the benefits of being hospitalized there and to consider seeking care elsewhere.

We expect the NIH, operating the premier hospital within the U.S. Public Health Service, to adhere to the highest standards for timely public transparency regarding serious threats to public health. It failed to do so.

Michael A. Carome and Sidney M. Wolfe, Washington

The writers are deputy director and director, respectively, of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

© The Washington Post Company