Hospitals resume knee surgeries after state lifts moratorium

Mike Zacharias

The Minnesota Department of Health advised hospitals and surgery centers to resume elective knee surgeries Monday.

The order lifts a five-day moratorium the agency placed on the surgeries last week after three unexplained deaths occurred within one week in the state.

“As of right now, we haven’t been able to find a common link between cases,” said Buddy Ferguson, a Department of Health information officer.

Ferguson said the investigation has not yet concluded.

The department enacted the precautionary moratorium after three men ages 23, 60 and 78, died after knee surgery. Ferguson said there was a “basic similarity” between the cases, and the department found it prudent to advise against elective knee surgeries until further notice.

The patients experienced severe stomach pains within days of surgery, their blood pressures quickly dropped and they died.

Symptoms suggested an infectious disease, Ferguson said.

Lab testing found a bacterium known as Clostridium sordellii in the 23-year-old man, but no trace of the toxin-producing bacterium was found in the other patients. Ferguson said he did not know the cause of death for the other men.

The moratorium was lifted after the investigation failed to find a common source for infection or prior post-surgical deaths similar to the three.

The surgeries took place at two hospitals, in three different rooms and with three different surgery teams. Investigators examined similar products and instruments used in the surgeries, as well as antiseptics and surgical drugs.

Officials also invited people to report similar cases to them and investigated as many as six cases, Ferguson said.

“Those also didn’t really fit into the pattern of the original three cases,” he said.

Two of the deaths occurred at St. Cloud Hospital and the third at Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, Minn.

Ferguson said this was an unusual situation and couldn’t recall the department advising against using a common surgical procedure.

“I think that we have suggested that hospitals and surgeons should be prudent and cautious,” Ferguson said.

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