E. coli infection spreads to nurse

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The Independent Online
A nurse has contracted poisoning by E. coli bacteria while treating victims struck down by the epidemic sweeping central Scotland, health officials confirmed last night.

Despite wearing a protective mask, gloves and clothing, the nurse at Falkirk Royal Infirmary fell ill last Tuesday after caring for two patients on a ward. She is now recovering at home, but the fact that she was poisoned simply from contact with the patients demonstrates how infectious E.coli 0157 can be.

"We believe this is a cross- infection from contact with patients rather than contact with infected food and it has caused us all some distress," Douglas Harper, the hospital's medical director, said. "It has certainly concentrated our minds on how infectious this organism is."

Details of the auxiliary nurse's condition were released within hours of Sir David Carter, Scotland's chief medical officer, telling journalists that the outbreak would soon be over. The total number of those infected is just below 400 and 11 people have died, but for two days running, there had been no new cases reported.

However, before the nurse's condition was made public, Sir David said: "We are particularly concerned now about the danger of secondary spread from one individual to another. That has not materialised as a major problem in this outbreak but I think the more days that go by the more confident one will be in saying that this outbreak is not just contained now, it is now over."

The nurse, who has not been named, was part of the hospital's team handling the E.coli outbreak. During the past few weeks, the team had treated 18 patients but only two were remaining when she became ill last Tuesday.

"She is fine now, but we are concerned that she became infected at all," Mr Harper said. "We practise barrier nursing, which involves wearing a mask, gloves and protective clothing. However, not to be too indelicate, a lot of diarrhoea is involved. Some of the people affected are quite debilitated and caring for them requires a lot of personal hygiene. Somehow, this nurse, who is very experienced, accidentally became exposed and was inadvertently infected. It is a warning to people at home - good personal hygiene can stop this spreading."

Earlier, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, travelled to Aberdeen with Sir David to meet Professor Hugh Pennington, the man in charge of medical inquiries into the outbreak.

Sir David said: "Mr Forsyth promised unlimited resources to Professor Pennington and his team, saying they had done "detective work which Sherlock Holmes would be proud of". He added: "As far as Professor Pennington's lab is concerned, of course we will provide help and support. Whatever he wants he will get."

t An elderly woman has died in hospital in Scunthorpe after being admitted last Saturday with E.coli, confirmed as the 0157 strain. It was said to be an isolated incident.