Sunday 20 October 2019

Lethal superbug outbreaks hit patients in crisis-hit hospitals

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Patients are falling victim to outbreaks of deadly superbugs in dangerously overcrowded hospitals.

The risk of picking up the potentially lethal infection has escalated during the worst trolley crisis on record.

Long-suffering patients are crammed into A&E departments and hospital wards, with hundreds waiting on trolleys again this week.

It emerged the so-called "nightmare" superbug CPE has struck 17 patients in hospitals across the country in the last three weeks.

The CPE bug is dreaded because it is almost untreatable, and immune to some of the last-resort group of antibiotics that are used when all other drugs have failed.

Three patients also ended up with MRSA in a person-to-person outbreak during the week of the snow storm.

Earlier this week, a record 714 patients on trolleys were squeezed into A&E departments and wards in conditions which can fuel the spread of disease.

Despite cancelling hundreds of planned operations and discharging many patients home for the St Patrick's weekend, there were still 470 waiting for a bed yesterday.

Hospital overcrowding, understaffing and overprescribing of antibiotics are making superbugs and viruses tough to control.

"CPE is a global problem. A number of different kinds of CPE have been introduced into Ireland and have spread in the healthcare system," the HSE confirmed.

Thirty patients were diagnosed with the bug in January and four outbreaks broke out in hospitals where it was passed on from one person to another.

A shortage of beds during the trolley crisis meant six patients carrying the bug could not be isolated in en-suite single rooms, increasing the risk of passing it on.

Overall, there were 133 patients with CPE across 17 hospitals during the course of the month.

The HSE said: "Patients who are carrying CPE or are infected with CPE should be in a single room with en-suite toilet and shower when this is possible.

"When this is not possible a number of patients with the same type of CPE can be in a shared space with shared toilet facilities."

CPE is carried harmlessly in the gut but may kill if it enters the bloodstream through a wound of a patient who is already sick or frail, which makes it a real threat in hospitals.

It was cited in several deaths in hospitals last year when the number of patients with the bug rose to 430, compared to 282 in 2016.

Doctors find it difficult to treat because antibiotic combinations or older, more toxic drugs have to be used.

It kills around half of patients whose bloodstream is infected although many have underlying health problems.

Patients who have the bacteria in the gut do not become ill but they can infect other patients.

Symptoms differ, but it usually leads to either a pneumonia-type infection in the chest or an E.coli infection in the bladder or digestive system.

One patient was confirmed to have it in the bloodstream in January, three in December and 15 last year.

CPE can be spread from one person to another by unwashed hands or from contact with soiled equipment and surfaces.

It can cause a wave of disruption forcing the closure of wards and surgery cancellation.

The extent of its grip on hospitals led to Health Minister Simon Harris setting up a national public health emergency team, made up of experts, to bring it under control.

The team reported yesterday that 17 new cases were detected between February 19 and March 12, which included some of the worst days of the trolley crisis this year.

In January, patients were diagnosed with the superbug in several of the hospitals battling the worst trolley gridlock.

They include St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, which has a transplant unit. Other hospitals where patients were diagnosed include University Hospital Galway, University Hospital Waterford, South Tipperary General Hospital, University Hospital Limerick, Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin, and Tallaght Hospital.

Irish Independent

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