Gloucester illness claims new victims

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The Independent Online
A DEADLY strain of microbes has claimed two more victims in Gloucestershire, it emerged yesterday. A woman has died, taking the death toll to three, and another in her thirties is seriously ill.

She is understood to have the same potentially fatal bacterium, haemolytic streptococcus Group A, but not the rare strain that leads to gangrene, causing tissue to die and fat to be 'liquified'. It has affected six men and women in Gloucestershire in the past two months.

Scientists are baffled and say that such a cluster of cases is 'unheard of'. Overall only 10 cases a year would be expected nationally.

The most recent patient to die, in her 60s, came from Cheltenham. She collapsed on a train in March, outside Dundee, returning from a holiday. When her family heard of the outbreak, reported earlier this month by the Independent, they contacted the health authorities. It is thought the cause of death was the gangrene, or necrotising fasciitis.

The patient with the different symptoms is in intensive care at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. She is 36 and has two daughters aged nine and 11. She runs her own travel agency and was fit and healthy until a small accident.

Her former husband, who flew from South Africa to be at her side, said yesterday: 'It was the first thing the hospital thought about but it has been confirmed by microbiologists that this is absolutely not the Gloucester bug. She had a fall which then became infected and it went out of control.'

John Richardson, director of consumer affairs at the hospital trust, said he could not confirm or deny that they had such a patient, but added that 'we have had no new cases of necrotising fasciitis'.

Concern among health professionals, however, has not diminished. Today Gloucester Health Authority will send 500 letters to all the county's doctors and community health nurses, urging vigilance. Public health officials in the neighbouring areas of Avon, Gwent, Hereford and Worcester, Oxfordshire, South Warwickshire and Swindon have been alerted.

Scientists locally and at the Public Health Laboratory Service, London, are struggling to find any connection between the cases and the bacterium that caused their illnesses. Four different strains have been isolated from the cases. Apart from two patients, treated at the same Stroud hospital earlier in the year, no other links have emerged.

Streptococcus Group A is a common cause of throat infections. The danger arises when virulent strains emerge and attack other parts of the body in susceptible people. Septicaemia often, then, causes the death of patients.

New potent strains, page 2