Hospital superbug threatening to spread through community

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A hospital superbug fuelled by inadequate infection-control measures is spreading round the country and threatening patients in the wider community.

The bug, a virulent new strain of the hospital infection Clostridium difficile, has been detected in 40 hospitals in England, The Independent can reveal. Ministers said in June that just 15 hospitals were affected.

It has killed dozens of mainly elderly hospital patients in Britain, and in the US the latest victims of the bug have included a 31-year-old pregnant woman and a 10-year-old girl.

Yesterday, the Healthcare Commission, the NHS watchdog, warned hospitals to step up their infection-control procedures after a survey showed that more than a third of NHS trusts had failed to implement government guidelines on controlling infection by the new strain, C.difficile 027. The hospitals at greatest risk were those that were unable to isolate infected patients and had failed to curb inappropriate use of antibiotics.

Marcia Fry, head of operational development at the commission, said: "It is deeply worrying that a significant number of trusts are not managing to implement existing guidance. Trusts must do more to ensure they have systems in place to protect patients from this potentially lethal infection."

Infections with C.difficilehave risen from about 1,000 a year in the early 1990s to more than 44,000 last year. The new strain, called Type 027, produces 10 times more toxin than existing strains of C.difficile and is causing severe illness and deaths. It is resistant to certain antibiotics, earning it the title of superbug.

Three hospitals have been hit by outbreaks of C.difficile 027 in the past two years - Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, Royal Devon & Exeter, and Oldchurch in Essex - involving hundreds of cases and more than 30 deaths among elderly patients.

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, ordered an inquiry into the outbreak of C.difficile 027 at Stoke Mandeville after it was revealed by The Independent in June. The commission is expected to report in the new year.

Professor Mark Willcox, director of infection control at Leeds University Hospitals, said the bug may be transmitted by patients moved around the NHS. "We have got evidence of that happening already," he said.