An illustration of Aspergillus fumigatus, the most common species of the fungus aspergillus capable of causing a life-threatening, but rare infection
An illustration of Aspergillus fumigatus, the most common species of the fungus aspergillus capable of causing a life-threatening, but rare infection
Illustration: Stephanie Rossow (CDC)

Mold infestations at a Washington state hospital have claimed yet another life, according to the deceased’s family. On Wednesday, 5-month-old Elizabeth Hutt died, following months of complications from a mold infection her family says she contracted at Seattle’s Children Hospital. If accurate, it would be the seventh documented death connected to mold at the hospital since 2001.

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Last May, hospital officials admitted that at least six of their patients had been infected by a common fungus called Aspergillus sometime in 2018, with one person dying as a result. The hospital temporarily shut down several of its operating rooms to clear out the infestation, which they said might have been caused by gaps in the air filtration system. In November, Seattle Children’s CEO Jeff Sperring stated that there had been five other mold-related deaths recorded at the hospital since 2001, and the hospital once again closed down its operating rooms for mold cleaning.

In December, CNN reported, the family of Elizabeth Hutt joined a class-action lawsuit against the hospital over the mold infestation, claiming that the hospital should have known about a potential problem with its air system as far back as 2000. In the lawsuit, Hutt’s family alleged that she could have contracted the mold during a heart surgery procedure at the hospital soon after her birth in August or during a second surgery in November 2019.

“The wonderful medical doctors and staff at Seattle Children’s Hospital worked hard and with compassion to save our baby’s life. But her chances of recovering were taken away when an operating room infected her with Aspergillus mold,” the family said in a statement released by their lawyer Karen Koehler, according to CNN.

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Aspergillus rarely causes a serious infection, but in people with weaker immune systems, the mold can take root in the lungs or elsewhere. Once that happens, the infection can quickly devastate and eat away at the body, leading to life-threatening complications like organ failure. The mold is found everywhere in the environment, and most strains aren’t infectious to people, but hospitals tend to be a relatively common source of severe infections, given their large populations of immunocompromised patients. Yet few hospitals in the U.S. conduct regular testing for mold susceptibility, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a statement made to CNN, the hospital did not deny or confirm that Hott’s death was caused by mold in their operating room, citing “respect for the privacy of our patients and their families.”

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Hott’s family, however, isn’t so silent.

“It grew inside of her and she just could not beat it. She should never have suffered so much. We are torn up as we wait for answers from the administration as to why their building was allowed to put our baby and so many other children in harm’s way,” their statement read.

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Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere

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