An investigation is being carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into blood infections linked to medical syringes which were contaminated with bacteria.
Apparently as many as 40 people in Texas and Illinois have become ill as a result, along with 20 outpatients at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago; but to date no deaths have been reported.
Doctors at Rush University Medical Center have traced the infections to heparin-filled syringes the patients used during treatment at home for cancer and other conditions.
The bacteria which caused the blood infections were found in a single batch of heparin-filled syringes produced by a North Carolina company Sierra Pre-Filled.
The bacteria involved is Serratia marcescens which can cause fever and chills, conjunctivitis, keratitis, endophthalmitis, and tear duct infections as well as urinary tract infections and wound infections.
It is common in the respiratory and urinary tracts of adults and the gastrointestinal system of children and some strains are resistant to several antibiotics.
Heparin is a blood thinner and the syringes are used to clear out catheters and intravenous lines.
The company is reportedly working with the CDC and Food and Drug Administration on the investigation and says the batch has been recalled; syringes from that batch also were sent to Colorado, Florida and Pennsylvania.
It remains unclear however if the initial contamination was in the heparin, the saline solution used to dilute the drug or the syringes themselves.
Of the 20 Rush outpatients who fell ill, 14 required hospitalization and all responded quickly to antibiotic treatment and only one remains hospitalized.
The affected batch carries the number 070926H and the CDC is alerting doctors about the contamination.