The Everett Clinic is notifying 2200 patients that they may have been contaminated with a fungus while being treated for sinus problems last year.
Clinic staff became suspicious last April when an unusually high number of patients tested positive for Acremonium, a common fungus found in our environment. By the fall, staff determined some of the devices used to spray nasal anesthetic were contaminated with the fungus.
Dr. Al Fisk, Chief Medical Officer at the Everett Clinic, said most patients do not become ill after exposure to Acremonium. He said gardeners and kids playing in the dirt are often exposed to the fungus.
"This is a very low risk situation," Dr. Fisk said. "People with a normal immune system never get diseases from this fungus. The people at risk of getting ill are those with a severely compromised immune systems."
Ear, nose and throat patients seen between March and November of 2012 have been sent letters informing them that they may have been exposed to Acremonium.
"It took us a little while to get our act together to make sure we were prepared to support our patients in the best possible way," Dr. Fisk said.
The Everett Clinic was cleaning its nasal spray devices with alcohol between patients, but this did not prevent the contamination. The clinic is now using disposable spray devices to eliminate the risk of future contamination.
"Were hoping to educate other physicians that are doing what we used to do," Dr. Fisk said. "We sure wish we had done something different."
Acremonium is no longer present at the clinic, according to Dr. Fisk. No positive cultures of the fungus have occurred since November.
No patients from the Everett Clinic have become ill from fungus exposure to date. If they did, Dr. Fisk said they would most likely experience a sinus infection and be treated with antibiotics.
"Anybody that needs care for this, we will take care of it free of charge," Dr. Fisk said.
Patients who have questions about potential exposure are welcome to call a special nurse line set up by the clinic at 425-317-4609.