MINNEAPOLIS — State health officials investigating the deaths of three men who died after elective knee surgery are focusing their attention on a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil and the human body.
Investigators said they were certain the bacterium, Clostridium sordellii, was involved in at least one of the deaths.
Two of the men died Nov. 11 after surgery at a hospital in St. Cloud, northwest of Minneapolis, while the third man died Friday, three days after knee surgery at a hospital about 70 miles away.
Investigators said Tuesday they were examining a handful of other cases to see if they were related.
"With some of these calls the story sounds good but on further investigation it turns out to be a stroke or pulmonary embolism or a clot," state epidemiologist Harry Hull said. "Before we leap to a conclusion, we need to get a full autopsy report."
Clostridium bacteria can be found in soil and even the gastrointestinal tract. A small amount of the rare bacteria can cause major illness.
Investigators said they examined supplies, drugs, surgical tools and other supplies with surgeons, but could identify no common factors other than the knee surgery.
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.
Officials asked hospitals statewide to suspend elective knee operations for one week while the investigation continues.