Local doctor honored for stopping spread of life-threatening infection

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published August 28, 2013

Jeffrey Band

ROYAL OAK — If it hadn’t been for Dr. Jeffrey Band and his investigation team at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, a life-threatening bacterial infection may have become more widespread in December 2011.

That month, Clinical Infection Preventionist Victoria Russo noticed a higher-than-usual number of patients testing positive for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that can cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and blood infections. Russo realized all the infections were in the patients’ respiratory systems and all came from the same intensive care unit.

Band, a health system chairman in epidemiology and international medicine, brought together an infection prevention and control team to locate the cause of the infection, and, after finding the bacteria in an ultrasound gel, Band contacted the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration to pull the gel from hospitals nationwide.

This month, Crain Communications honored Band, a Huntington Woods resident, as a “Health Care Hero” for his work in finding the infectious bacteria.

“The frightening part about this gel is it was a very popular brand used in about 60 percent of all hospitals across the country, so thankfully after we identified it was contaminated, it got a national recall,” Band said. “The gratifying part of all this work was that it took a tremendous amount of teamwork, as there were so many people involved in the investigation. This gel could have gone on and affected newborns, pregnant mothers and other patients having surgeries, but we were able to get it off the shelves.”

Russo said the particular ICU where the infections were coming from was one commonly used for heart surgeries. On a daily basis, she said, she studies reports and new admissions to see if there is an increase in any particular type of bacteria.

“If we have a bacteria that is showing up more than usual compared to the past, I look into it because it may warrant further investigation and that is where everything kind of got started here,” Russo said. “From start to finish, I was kind of like a coordinator for the whole outbreak, from figuring out the sources to educating the units and working with the FDA and CDC. It is such a blur now, but I think it is an experience I will never forget.”

When the infectious bacteria started showing up in patients, Band said it was one or two cases, but the bacteria were eventually found in 16 total patients. Because the bacteria were found in just the respiratory tract and lungs, and not in areas such as around the wound, Band and his team started looking at the probes inserted down the esophagus during open-heart surgery.

However, the probes didn’t show any signs of defect, and the team had to move on to find another source.

“We interviewed nurses and didn’t find any breaks in techniques at all, but we narrowed it down to one ICU and we were certain we would find defective probes, but they were all functioning at 100 percent,” Band said. “If we got one patient with this type of infection, it wasn’t outrageous, but we were seeing it coming from one ICU and it signified there may be a problem, but we weren’t finding anything right away.”

Finally, Band and the team narrowed it down to the ultrasound gel that was used as a transducer for the probe. The team removed the gel immediately, and, after some testing, found the gel wasn’t contaminated onsite, but rather came with the bacteria from the manufacturer.

“The probe served as the vehicle of spread and everything pointed toward the probe, but they were all negative, so we took a step back and the gel was the only viable option,” Band said. “What really surprised us was I’d say 99 percent of the time it is due to contamination within (the hospital), but we tested the sealed, unused gel bottles and we revealed this bacteria was out across the country.”

Band said the infection prevention team at Beaumont is more in- depth than about 99 percent of hospitals in the area. The early surveillance and immediate investigation helped save other people across the country, he said.

While Band received the honor, Russo echoed his opinion on the task being a team effort and it wouldn’t have been possible without everyone involved.

“I feel like we have a great team here and I feel like we constantly have eyes and ears open for many issues that may be happening out of the ordinary,” Russo said. “No other area in the country caught something like this, so we were on top of the problem and we prevented future patients from getting in harm’s way.

“We were like little investigators in the hospital because our goal is the quality of our patient care.”