Image: Sandra and Shanoop Kothari
Michael Stravato  /  for msnbc.com
Sandra and Shanoop Kothari of Houston hold a photo of their two children, Hannah and Harrison. After a routine surgery for a benign cyst, Harrison Kothari, 2, died last year of bacterial meningitis caused by Bacillus cereus, a rare bacterium that was later linked to the recall of millions of alcohol prep wipes.
Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 2/15/2011 8:21:03 AM ET 2011-02-15T13:21:03

The parents of a 2-year-old Houston boy who died from a rare infection are suing makers of recalled alcohol prep products, claiming contaminated wipes and swabs transmitted bacteria that caused his fatal case of meningitis.

Sandra and Shanoop Kothari say their lively, dark-eyed toddler, Harrison, was recovering just fine from surgery to remove a benign cyst from near his brain and spinal cord last fall. But the day before he was set to be discharged after a week's stay, he developed a sudden and severe infection that worsened rapidly, causing multi-organ failure that led to Harrison’s death on Dec. 1, 2010.

Cultures showed he succumbed to acute bacterial meningitis caused by Bacillus cereus, bacteria typically found in rare food poisoning outbreaks, but not in hospital infections.

“They had no explanation as to how he contracted it,” said Sandra Kothari, 37, Harrison’s mother. “They know it’s rare in the hospital.”

Rare bacteria detected
For more than a month, the family grieved without knowing the cause of their loss. Then, on Jan. 5, a relative saw a notice posted online by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. All lots of alcohol prep wipes, perhaps tens of millions of swabs and pads manufactured by the Triad Group, a Wisconsin medical product supplier, were being recalled.

The reason? Potential contamination with Bacillus cereus.

“These wipes were used in his care every single day, multiple times a day,” said Shanoop Kothari, Harrison’s father.

Officials at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, where Harrison was treated, confirmed that the alcohol prep products they used were supplied by Triad, said the Kotharis’ lawyer Jim Purdue Jr. Samples of Triad products were taken from the room where Harrison stayed, he added. Shanoop Kothari said the recall offered terrible confirmation.

“We’re confident that that’s the cause,” said Kothari, 38, who works in the banking industry. “There was no other explanation that made any sort of sense. He contracted a very rare bacteria. These swatches were tainted with that bacteria.”

Image: Sandra and Shanoop Kothari
Michael Stravato  /  for msnbc.com
Sandra and Shanoop Kothari show a teddy bear their son, Harrison, kept with him in the hospital in Houston.

Lawyers filed a complaint Sunday in U.S. District Court in Houston. It charges the Triad Group of Hartland, Wis., with gross negligence and seeks damages for the loss of Harrison’s life.

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“Our emotional response over this has been horrible,” said Shanoop Kothari said of his family, which also includes Harrison's 7-year-old sister, Hannah. “We’ve been devastated. We’ve been absolutely crushed.”

Representatives for the Triad Group did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests from msnbc.com to discuss the lawsuit or the recall. FDA spokesman Christopher Kelly said the 35-year-old family firm “did everything correctly” in notifying government authorities about the massive recall. Triad products are sold, often under private labels, in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Kelly offered no futher details about the recall or whether other injuries have been reported.

Millions of products recalled
The company’s Jan. 5 voluntary notice said they were recalling all lots of pads, wipes, swabs and swabsticks “out of an abundance of caution,” and that they had received one report of a non-life-threatening skin infection linked to Bacillus cereus. However, the notice added that use of contaminated pads “could lead to life-threatening infections, especially in at risk populations, including immune suppressed and surgical patients.” There was no indication of how any wipes might have become contaminated.

The bacteria do have potential for devastating infections, according to Dr. Aaron Glatt, spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

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"It can be a pretty bad bug," said Glatt, president of St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y.

Bacillus cereus is a spore-forming bacterium found in soil and occasionally associated with foodborne illness. It can be resistant to heat and to disinfectant and has been known to survive standard sterilization procedures, Glatt said.

Harrison was not quite old enough to be vaccinated against bacterial meningitis when he had his surgery last fall, and even if he were, the recommended vaccine doesn’t protect against that strain of bacteria.

Harrison's mother, Sandra Kothari, said she worries that there may be more people injured or killed by the potentially tainted wipes and swabs, which were widely used in hospitals and sold in stores such as Walgreens and CVS.

“People buy alcohol pads and they last a long time in your bathroom. They’re sitting there now,” she said.

“I wouldn’t want any other mother to go what I’ve gone through.”

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Alcohol swabs blamed for toddler death

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