Nurse killed by new strain of superbug had just given birth

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A nurse in her thirties who contracted a deadly new strain of MRSA at a hospital in the West Midlands was infected during an emergency Caesarean and died within days of her baby being born, The Independent has learnt. The hospital at the centre of the outbreak, caused by a toxic strain of the superbug known as PVL-producing MRSA, was identified yesterday as the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust in Stoke-on-Trent. The debt-ridden hospital was the subject of a controversial visit by the Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt earlier this year after it announced it was cutting 1,000 posts. A spokesman said yesterday that 11 people had contracted the toxic bug, of whom two, including the nurse, had died.

The emergence of the new strain prompted renewed calls for ministers to introduce a new strategy to tackle the superbug. Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Health spokesman, said: "Over the last nine years there have been far too many cases where the Government has allowed MRSA to become endemic. The inevitable result has been an evolving process leading to increased resistance to antibiotics. Three years ago we called on the Government to implement a 'search and destroy' strategy that has been effective in the Netherlands and Denmark but not even piloted in England. It is time for us to take on the threat of new and more dangerous bacteria. It is time for the Government at the very least to fund a pilot search and destroy scheme."

The Health Protection Agency said it was the first time transmission and deaths due to the PVL strain of MRSA had occurred in a hospital in England and Wales, as revealed by The Independent yesterday. The agency issued a warning to hospitals to be on the lookout for the new strain and to report suspected cases to the Centre for Infections in Colindale, north London. Public health officials fear that if the strain becomes established in hospitals it could pose a serious threat.

The nurse, who has not been named, was from abroad, and had been healthy. She died from MRSA blood poisoning, septic shock and pneumonia. Her husband has since returned to their home country with the baby, who is believed to be healthy. Her death triggered an investigation at the hospital, which revealed that she had been infected with the deadly Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) MRSA, which has previously only been detected in small outbreaks among children and young people outside hospital.

Testing initially showed six other staff and their household contacts were either infected with, or were carrying, the same strain. A patient who had died the previous March also turned out to be infected. Three more cases were later identified, one of which was a former patient.

The hospital said in a statement: "No current patients have been identified as affected. All those affected have been informed and there is no need for any other patient to be concerned."

In April, Ms Hewitt toured the hospital after previously criticising the trust for having too many staff and unnecessarily admitting patients. In meetings with hospital staff, she told them she had "no doubt" that people would get better health care as a result of the hospital's financial recovery plan.

The following day, it was reported the hospital had denied claims it reopened an operating theatre during Ms Hewitt's visit. It said surgery had been transferred to the theatre for an audit, and not to give a favourable impression.

A statement from the HPA yesterday said PVL-producing strains of MRSA had been seen in the UK before, but usually in the community rather than a hospital environment. PVL strains of the MRSA virus attack the white blood cells, destroy tissue and can cause boils up to three inches in diameter. The bug, which is carried in the nose and on the skin, can enter the body through a scratch or pimple, and can develop into necrotising fasciitis, the "flesh-eating bug". In rare cases it spreads to the lungs and causes pneumonia and death.

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