New superbug at hospital renders antibiotics 'useless'
Monday 27 May 2002
A new superbug that can neutralise antibiotics and cause fatal blood poisoning has been detected at one of Scotland's most modern hospitals.
The extended spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) superbug has already claimed the life of one patient at Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire. Now health chiefs have admitted infection controls must be tightened at hospitals across the country to combat the threat it poses.
A study by Dr Dugald Baird, a microbiologist at Hairmyres, found a total of 41 patients contracted the bacteria – which produce enzymes that break down common antibiotics – between July 2001 and April this year. The bugs are mutated bacteria found in the gut and can only be destroyed using special antibiotics.
Dr Baird said that ESBL could become the new MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), a common bug that infects about 10,00 people in Scotland each year.
He said: "These organisms have a propensity to spread very quickly. All the usual range of antibiotics, penicillins and cephalosporins are pretty much useless against these things.We are coming close to our last line of defence."
The patient who died is believed to have had a shortage of bacteria-fighting white blood cells, possibly because of cancer treatment. Dr Baird said the infection had "contributed" to the patient's death. Doctors had prescribed a combination of antibiotics, to which the patient had proved resistant.
Lanarkshire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust refused to confirm that a patient had died as a result of the bug.
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