See SURGERIES / 5A
BYLINE1:By GREGG AAMOT
MINNEAPOLIS -- The state Health Department on Sunday asked all hospitals and surgery centers in Minnesota to suspend elective knee surgeries for one week following the sudden deaths of three men.
Each of the men died last week after having some form of knee surgery. Two had surgery at St. Cloud Hospital, and the third man died at Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, about 70 miles away.
Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist, called the request "a precaution" and said public health officials in bordering states were advised of the situation in Minnesota. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was involved in the investigation, Hull said.
"We are doing a very intensive investigation and working with the CDC to find out the source of these deaths," he said. Hull said officials were investigating everything from surgical instruments to drapes in the operating rooms.
Health officials called hospitals and surgery centers Sunday, asking that a moratorium on the surgeries begin Monday morning and last until the following Monday, Nov. 26. That would allow time for test results on the victims to be completed, they said.
On Nov. 11, Brian Lykins, 23, a student at Ridgewater College in Willmar, and Wayne Hulterstrum, 78, of Litchfield, died after having surgery at St. Cloud Hospital, local officials said. A man in his mid-60s died Friday at Douglas County Hospital. The identity of the third man was not immediately released.
The patients at St. Cloud Hospital had surgery Nov. 7 and Nov. 9; the man in Alexandria had surgery Tuesday. After the third man's death, Hull said, "we dramatically elevated our level of concern."
While investigators were searching for clues, preliminary tests show that the bacteria clostridium may have been identified in blood taken from the 23-year-old, Hull said. A small amount of the rare bacteria can cause major illness, and final test results would be available later this week, he said.
Drugs used in treating the two patients at St. Cloud Hospital also were being tested by the Health Department and the CDC.
Health officials limited their request to elective knee surgeries since that is the only common theme they have found in the deaths. "It makes sense to do that," Hull said.
Hull said health officials did not suspect foul play. Noting the tense atmosphere in the country, he added: "We have no reason to believe this is bioterrorism."
The CDC was alerting hospitals across the country about the deaths.
All three men were in good physical health before their surgeries and became ill one to four days after going home. Their conditions rapidly deteriorated and included a sudden drop in blood pressure, health officials said.
While clinical specimens have been taken from two of the bodies, the body of one of the men was embalmed before it could be tested, complicating the investigation, Hull said.
Health officials were asking health care providers in Minnesota to report any deaths or illnesses that appear to be similar to the three cases under investigation.
"If we do not find additional cases we just may run into a dead end. But we would rather run into a dead end than have additional patients," he said.
Two of the men had knee-replacement surgery; the other had what Hull called a cartilage graft. The procedures involved different surgeons, rooms and air systems.
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