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Pa., N.J. investigating cause of bacterial infections

The Pennsylvania and New Jersey Health Departments have announced ongoing investigations into a possible link between a bacterial infection and a type of prefilled syringe that is used to flush intravenous lines with saline solution to keep them sterile.

Over the last several months, federal agencies have been tracking reports by several states of clusters of Burkholderia cepacia in health-care facilities. The group of bacteria, which can be resistant to common antibiotics. often cause no symptoms but can be dangerous to people with weakened immune systems or chronic lung diseases, especially cystic fibrosis. No deaths have been reported in connection with the outbreak.

Pennsylvania announced Wednesday that it had identified 20 cases, all among residents of facilities that used prefilled saline flush syringes made by Texas-based Nurse Assist Inc., and that the facilities had stopped using them. The department said that it had tested a sample of the syringes and found that they were contaminated with the bacteria.

Nurse Assist issued a voluntary recall of its 3-, 5-, and 10-milliliter syringes Tuesday, the same day New Jersey said it had identified two cases associated with the outbreak.

Neither state provided information about the conditions of infected patients, or where they resided.

Although use of the Nurse Assist product has been linked to facilities with infected residents, it is not certain that the syringes actually caused the illnesses.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are continuing to investigate the multistate outbreak.

B. cepacia is far from a household word, but clusters of infection have been linked to nasal sprays, mouthwash, and contaminated medicine.

Dalton and Katie Prager, who became known as the "real-life" Fault in Our Stars couple -- their teenage love story and marriage resembled the plot of John Green's novel and its movie adaptation -- both contracted the infection; she got it from him, according to news reports. The couple died five days apart last month, although it was unclear what role the bacteria played in their deaths. Both had cystic fibrosis and had received a lung transplant, and both had been quite sick.