herald

Thursday 23 November 2017

Baby-killing bug lurks in all of our hospitals

CRISIS: Mums-to-be moved here after death of tots in North unit

Killer bateria that’s claimed the lives of three babies is in every Irish hospital, it’s been claimed.

The warning came as details of four fresh cases of the deadly bug pseudomonas aeruginosa emerged at a Belfast Hospital. Prof Frederick Falkiner, of Dublin’s Mount Carmel Private Hospital, told the Herald: "It is already in every hospital in the Republic.



"It is able to become resistant to disinfectants and may cause outbreaks if disinfectants have not been dispensed and used correctly," Prof Falkiner added.



A leading microbiologist has warned that deadly bacteria which claimed the lives of three babies in Belfast is present in all Irish hospitals.

Prof Frederick Falkiner, of Dublin's Mount Carmel Private Hospital, has confirmed that the potentially deadly bug pseudomonas aeruginosa occurred "everywhere" and insisted that hospital screenings were "valueless".

"It is already in every hospital in the Republic," Prof Falkiner told the Herald.

He spoke as it emerged that four more babies were found to be infected by the bug at the Belfast hospital.

One of the babies has died of an unrelated cause, one is undergoing treatment while the last two have recovered.

Another baby died of a different strain of the bacterial infection last month at a Derry hospital, it has emerged.

This is not believed to be connected to the Belfast outbreak.

Prof Falkiner told the Herald: "Because it occurs everywhere, screening is clearly valueless.

"It is able to become resistant to disinfectants and may cause outbreaks if disinfectants have not been dispensed and used correctly."



PREGNANT

Dublin hospitals have admitted two pregnant women from the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast over the past week after their neo-natal unit was closed to control the spread of pseudomonas infections, which has killed three premature babies.

The deaths occurred on January 6, January 13 and last Thursday night.

"We have identified an area within the unit where we believe the risk is coming from and we have, over the last few days, gradually emptied out that area," Richard Wright, associate medical director at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said last night.

"It normally holds 13 cots. My understanding is that [by this morning] it will be empty."

Maternity hospitals in the Republic indicated that they were willing to provide support in terms of admitting more pregnant women, if needed.

But there were some fears that there could be a spread of the infection to centres here. The HSE issued the following statement to allay any concerns: "All babies in the hospitals through the neo-natal transfer protocol are checked on arrival, as a matter of routine, for any infection."



BACTERIA



Dr Falkiner added that the risk of contamination was low as the pseudomonas bacteria "has rarely been transmitted by an airborne route". He added: "It is unlikely that this is how it spread in Belfast.

"Some believe it may be spread by this route in cystic fibrosis patients, but this is only usually between siblings in constant close contact."

Dr Rhona Mahony, master of Holles Street Maternity Hospital, said the bacteria was "predominately found around water, particularly stagnant water. It does not spread between hospitals or between beds."

According to figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), 222 pseudo-monas infections were reported in 2010.

The data also shows that the number of infections of this type has consistently increased over a four-year period.

In 2006, only 128 cases bloodstream infections of pseudo-monas aeruginosa were reported, this increased to 177 in 2007, 199 in 2008 and 248 in 2009.



VULNERABLE

HPSC reports noted older people were more vulnerable to the bug than other age group.

Between 2006 and 2009, an average of 70pc of sufferers were aged 55 or above. The pseudomonas bacteria can be particularly harmful if it occurs in the lungs, the urinary tract, or the kidneys of people -- and babies who have a weakened immune system.

Meanwhile, Irish patients' representatives have slammed what they see as the slow response from the HSE over the outbreak.

Representatives from the HSE press office were unavailable to provide guidance to the public on Friday morning, as they were in a "crisis training exercise" as the crisis unfolded.



QUESTIONS

Representatives from the Department of Health and HSPC referred questions to the HSE press office.

An official response was issued to this paper seven hours after first queries were made.

"In areas of public concern it is important that open, speedy and reliable information is made available as soon as possible," Stephen McMahon, from the Irish Patients' Association, told the Herald.

"There are times that Irish patients need to avail of the services in the UK. If there isn't information made available, people can start suspecting neighbours."

hnews@herald.ie

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