As If the Killer Got Away

Deborah J. Nelson, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Ryan McNeill | Reuters | September 7, 2016

In a more than yearlong investigation, Reuters used court records, news reports, patient advocacy organizations and Web searches to identify individuals who had died of antibiotic-resistant infections and then contacted relatives to obtain death certificates and medical records. In some cases, the death certificate did not mention the lethal infection. In many others, it did, but the death occurred in a state that doesn’t track the infections. Even in states that do track some superbug deaths, none are counted nationally, in real time, in any unified surveillance system. For relatives, the lack of full disclosure on the death certificate was particularly galling – an insult to the memory of the dead. Here are some of their stories:

Mark Bennett, 89, of Maryland, was hospitalized in early 2004 with a respiratory virus. Over the next four months, as he was shuttled among hospital and rehab facilities, he contracted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) and had a leg amputated before he died, according to medical records and his son, Michael Bennett. His death certificate cites VRE in the blood as his immediate cause of death. Maryland doesn’t require infections or deaths to be reported for VRE, MRSA or C. difficile.

Keith Blair, 86, of California, a retired dentist who lived with his daughter in San Diego, went to the doctor in July 2009 for severe back pain. After being admitted to the hospital for diagnostic tests, he was transferred several times between hospital and nursing home, according to his daughter, Marian Hollingsworth, and developed a MRSA infection in his eyes. After myriad complications, Blair died in September 2009. His death certificate cites renal failure as the immediate cause of death and mentions MRSA pneumonia as a significant contributor. California does not track MRSA deaths...