Epidemic Serratia marcescens in a neonatal intensive care unit: importance of the gastrointestinal tract as a reservoir

Infect Control. Mar-Apr 1982;3(2):127-33. doi: 10.1017/s0195941700055909.


Between a March and December of 1979, and outbreak of infections due to multiply antibiotic resistant Serratia marcescens took place in a 50-bed neonatal intensive care unit. Fifteen neonates suffered major infections (sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia) with one death, and 20 suffered minor infections (conjunctivitis, cystitis, wound infections). Epidemiologic investigation failed to reveal a common source; S. marcescens, however, ws isolated from an employee's hand, emollient skin cleanser, suction tubing, and three in-use manual infant resuscitation bags. The skin cleanser and equipment-cleaning agents were ineffective against S. marcescens. Asymptomatic, colonized infants were the major reservoir of S marcescens. These infants were identified by daily cultures of the nose, umbilicus and rectum. The rectal swab most commonly (76%) yielded first-positive cultures in previously uncolonized infants, and was ultimately positive in 92% of colonized infants. A control program was begun by: 1) removing all inanimate sources of S. marcescens; and 2) cohorting patients and staff into a S. marcescens-exposed group and a new patient group. The new patient group of infants was surveyed by daily triple-site cultures for colonization and subsequent transfer to the S. marcescens-exposed group. After four months, the epidemic was controlled and the organism eradicated from the neonatal intensive care unit.

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Enterobacteriaceae Infections / epidemiology
  • Enterobacteriaceae Infections / prevention & control
  • Enterobacteriaceae Infections / transmission*
  • Hospital Bed Capacity, 500 and over
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / epidemiology
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / prevention & control
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / transmission*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Serratia marcescens*
  • Tennessee