Mothers and babies infected in hospital outbreak of PVL

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An outbreak of a PVL superbug struck the maternity unit of a hospital in Plymouth leaving 10 mothers and their babies with severe infections, The Independent has learnt. Emma Lynch, one of the mothers, developed an abscess almost eight inches long, which required emergency surgery, and her daughter, Daisy, had a boil on her breast which required lancing when she was two weeks old. Daisy has since had 14 courses of antibiotics in an attempt to clear her of the bug, which is resistant to treatment.

Details of the outbreak emerged yesterday after the Health Protection Agency put out a warning to the NHS last weekend following the deaths of nurse and a patient from the Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) form of the MRSA bacteria at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, earlier this year. It was the first time the PVL form had been transmitted and caused deaths within a hospital.

Mrs Lynch said she and her daughter, now aged three, made repeated attempts to eradicate the PVL infection without success, after Daisy was born at Derriford Hospital in October 2003. "I was extremely shocked and concerned for my daughter's health. More should be known about this bug," she said.

A report into the outbreak produced by the hospital's microbiology department said there were 10 cases of PVL staphylococcus infection among mothers and babies in the maternity unit in October and November 2003. In seven cases, the infection led to mastitis (inflammation of the breast) and in four, to abscesses requiring surgery. The report did not confirm that the outbreak was due to MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) but public health officials said last night that PVL, whether methicillin sensitive (MSSA) or methicillin resistant, were often hard to treat.

"It was horrendous. I had Daisy by Caesarean and was discharged five days later. Then I started getting pains in my breast, and had two courses of two different antibiotics. When they didn't work I was readmitted and had a scan which revealed the huge abscess on my breast. Within an hour I had emergency surgery."

In the three years since, Daisy has had 18 boils and abscesses on her body, including one which required surgery under general anaesthetic in August. Mrs Lynch said: "It was on her right buttock and it had to be cut and drained because she wasn't responding to antibiotics. She has been almost permanently on antibiotics since last June and was pale and off her food. She weighs less than she did when she was two. Now you can see she has more energy and looks better since the surgery."

According to the report, no trace of the PVL bug was found on equipment in the maternity unit and the most likely source was a member of staff or a visitor.

Mrs Lynch said: "All 10 of us who got infected with the PVL strain were on the same ward and the common factor was we had all had help to breastfeed from the auxiliary nurses ... I am convinced that was how the infection was transmitted."

Sharon Kowalski, the on-call manager at Derriford Hospital, said no one was available to comment last night. A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency in the South-west said PVL-producing strains of staphylococcus aureus posed a particular challenge.

Meanwhile, the mother of Catherine Chadwick, a community midwife who died from PVL in April, spoke of her shock and grief over the loss of her daughter. She died 48 hours after being admitted to hospital in Bradford and had gone to her GP only a day earlier. Vera Ward, 78, said: "Catherine was fit and healthy and at 47 you do not expect to die like that. She has left a hole nothing can fill."

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