7 On Your Side Investigates: New York health officials won't disclose facilities hit by deadly superbug

Monday, May 6, 2019
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Jim Hoffer investigates why New York health officials won't disclose facilities hit by deadly superbug.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A deadly drug-resistant fungus is spreading in hospitals and nursing homes throughout New York City and its suburbs, threatening the lives of those with weakened immune systems. But so far, health officials are refusing to identify the affected facilities.

"It's a very serious health threat," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, Columbia University professor and an expert on public health policy. "It's a superbug, meaning resistant to all-known antibiotics."

It is known as Candida auris, and it is lethal for some patients with existing medical problems .

"These people would be in danger, so you don't want somebody visiting the hospital not knowing that it's around and somehow contracting the infection," Dr. Redlener said. "That would be an utter disaster."

But hospitals, the Center for Disease Control, and New York City and state health departments have so far refused to give 7 On Your Side Investigates the names of the facilities where Candida auris has caused serious illness and deaths.

Dr. Redlener says the secrecy is a big mistake.

"If they're rattled by Candida auris to the point where we have secrecy pacts among hospitals and public health agencies, then you're just hiding something that obviously needs more attention and resources to deal with," he said.

Related: Drug-resistant Candida auris spreads to New York City, New Jersey

The state Department of Health says there is no risk to the general public and notes that the vast majority of patients have had serious underlying medical conditions.

The numbers underscore the growing health threat. Since first surfacing in 2016, Candida auris has stricken 613 people nationwide.

More than half of those cases, 319, have occurred in hospitals and nursing homes in New York, mostly in the city. And most worrisome to health officials is that 179 patients did not survive -- a 56% mortality rate.

Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, says New York health officials are leaving the public in the dark.

"Where are these infections occurring?" he said. "These are serious, potentially life-threatening infections that are difficult if not impossible to treat."

Dr. Carome says the secrecy is all about protecting the hospitals and nursing homes.

"I think hospitals that maybe are having a serious outbreak, maybe where patients have died, they may fear that it would harm their reputation," he said. "Maybe harm their financial bottom line, if indeed patients who are informed choose not to go there for their care."

Related: Sen. Schumer calls on CDC to declare emergency in fight against superbug

Jill Montag, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, issued a statement to Eyewitness News.

"We are working aggressively with impacted hospitals and nursing homes to implement infection control strategies for Candida auris," it read.

Montag says they plan to include the name of the impacted facilities in their annual infection report, which will be released later this year.

Dr. Redlener says they have the information now and should release the names now.

"To keep that a secret is putting people in danger," he said. "And I don't think that's reasonable or ethical."

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