Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has admitted a heart surgeon operated on patients with bacteria on his hands, infecting five patients with the potentially deadly staph infection.
NBC News reports that the doctor, who was unnamed, had an inflammation on his hand when he surgically implanted replacement heart valves into five patients last June.
The patients became infected when tiny tears appeared in the latex surgical gloves routinely worn by the doctor.
The tears allowed the staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria to pass from the doctor's inflamed hand directly into the patients hearts, the hospital said.
The Los Angeles Times reports that four of the patients needed a second surgery and are still recovering.
Hospital officials told the LA Times that the outbreak was a "very unusual occurrence" and was likely due to the nature of the surgery. Valve replacement requires the surgeon to use thick sutures and tie more than 100 knots, which can cause extra stress on the gloves, officials told the newspaper.
Harry Sax, vice chairman of the hospital's department of surgery, said that the goal is to have zero infections.
"Any hospital-acquired infection is unacceptable," he said.
Staphylococcus epidermidis infections can range from mild to nearly fatal and include fever, fatigue, pain or tenderness at the site of an implant, rapid breathing, rapid heart beat and sweating.
AP reports the June outbreak led to investigations by the hospital and both the LA County and state departments of public health. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also consulted.