Yeast Infection Increases at County-USC

Times Staff Writer

A higher-than-normal incidence of yeast infection has turned up in a Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center intensive-care unit that treats premature infants, a hospital official disclosed Thursday.

Normally, there are two to four such cases a month in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit--a rate similar to that at other hospitals, according to Dr. Bernard Portnoy, the hospital’s associate director of pediatrics.

But between May 10 and May 24, he said, there were 12 cases involving the yeast, which has the medical name of Candida albicans .

Five of the 12 premature children died. Portnoy said the deaths were not directly related to the yeast infection but to other “underlying” problems, such as lung diseases, which afflict most of the babies in the unit.


“The manner of death was typical of the underlying disease rather than showing symptoms of the yeast infection,” Portnoy said.

No yeast infections were reported between May 25 and June 4, but seven cases were discovered between June 5 and June 14, Portnoy said.

Dr. Shirley Fannin, associate director of communicable disease control for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said the hospital recently notified the county of the problem but that no outside help was requested. “They are doing (their own) internal investigation,” she said.

Portnoy said the state Department of Health Services also was notified, and two investigators said they were satisfied that the hospital was conducting an adequate inquiry.


The yeast organism is fairly widespread--it typically shows up in the mouth, rectum and vagina--but generally causes no major problems unless an individual has another disease that breaks down immunity to the yeast species. If that should happen, the organism can lead to death.

“We have investigated almost every source we know of for infection,” including sterilization procedures and ventilator circuits, Portnoy said, but no specific cause of the outbreak has been determined.