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Superbug linked to deaths of eight patients at Limerick hospitals

Of all the superbugs, CPE is the most difficult to kill with antibiotics.

File photo of a medical professional
File photo of a medical professional
Image: Shutterstock/Dusan Petkovic

A SUPERBUG HAS been linked to the deaths of eight patients at Irish hospitals.

A review into 73 deaths at hospitals in the UL Hospitals Group between 2009 and May 2017 found that none of the patients died directly due to the CPE superbug but it was a factor in eight deaths.

Of all the superbugs, CPE is the most difficult to kill with antibiotics. It can exist harmlessly in the gut but can be lethal if it spreads to the bloodstream or into a person’s urine.

A report published today notes that the eight people who died had significant underlying health problems.

The first-ever case of CPE in Ireland was isolated in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in 2009 and the first-ever outbreak in an Irish hospital occurred in UHL in 2011. The superbug has since spread to a number of other hospitals.

A spokesperson for the HSE said the review “highlights challenges faced in managing multi-drug resistant organisms”.

Protected disclosure

In the report, Professor Paul Burke, the Chief Clinical Director of the UL Hospitals Group, states that since the first outbreak of CPL in 2011, the group has been “relatively successful in limiting” its the spread.

Both an internal and external investigation were carried out in relation to CPE at the relevant hospitals. Burke notes in the report that a protected disclosure was made to the Limerick City Coroner alleging CPE was involved in the deaths of 36 people who had been inpatients at UL Hospitals Group.

The findings from the investigation show that during the period examined, 196 CPE patients were detected and 73 of those patients had died.

Burke states that the external review refers to 74 patient deaths, adding that this discrepancy is “accounted for by the conclusion that one of the organisms involved was not a confirmed CPE”.

“It is the conclusion of the report that CPE was an associated factor in the deaths of eight patients. All these patients also had other significant medical problems, and CPE was only one of a number of factors contributing to their deaths,” he notes.

The HSE said it is “encouraging that there has not been a CPE bloodstream infection detected at UHL since June 2015″.

“To date there have been three such events at UHL while nationally there have been 50 episodes of bloodstream infection reported since 2014.”

Losing a loved one 

Professor Colette Cowan, CEO of UL Hospitals Group, said the organisation is conscious “that behind every number, there is a family who has lost a loved one”.

We know that in revisiting these matters, we may be adding to their distress. We apologise for this but we felt strongly that all next-of-kin should be informed of the review findings.

“CPE is not an easy thing for people to come to terms with. We would like to reassure patients and to reassure the public that the precautions we take in screening for CPE and in cohorting or isolating CPE contacts or CPE-positive patients are taken to minimise the risks to the most vulnerable patients,” she added.

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Órla Ryan

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