A milestone many in the medical community would've thought was impossible has been reached at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Jersey City Medical Center.

For five straight years, the unit has sustained zero cases of a healthcare-acquired infection that can be deadly for weak and fragile newborns.

"In general, most units have an infection or a couple infections every thousand line days," said Dr. Ameth Aguirre, director of neonatology and newborn services for JCMC. "We're one of a handful of hospitals in the country with five years, no infections."

Central-line associated bloodstream infections, or CLABSI, occur when bacteria or viruses enter an individual through a central venous catheter, a much-needed tool in order to deliver medicine, fluids or blood products to infants who can't support themselves just yet.

Central lines, different from IVs because of their location, can remain in place for weeks or months, and are therefore more likely to cause a serious infection.

Since 2011, NICUs in nine states — including New Jersey — have participated in a national CLABSI reduction project.

Dr. Kevin Slavin, chief of quality and safety for the Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, said hospitals have revamped their techniques around the insertion of maintenance of these lines.

"And the nurseries follow strict protocols for removing them as quickly as possible," Slavin said.

The hospital recently reached the year mark with no infant CLABSI cases.

If identified in time, the infection can be reversed. Unlike adults, infants don't present the most obvious symptoms when infected.

"Many thought it would be impossible to get to the point that you can go this long without having a line infection," Slavin said.

Prior to its five-year streak, JCMC's NICU posted a rate higher than the national average, which currently sits around 1.3 infections per 1,000 line days, Dr. Aguirre said. In the five-year CLABSI-free period, the unit has cared for more than 1,500 infants.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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