An outbreak of pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria which lead to the death of one premature baby and infected 12 others on the neonatal unit of Southmead Hospital, was reported by the BBC yesterday.
What is pseudomonas aeruginosa?
It is a bacteria which is found in soil, water and skin flora and which can cause disease in animals and humans. It is waterborne and due to its resilience and ability to survive in different environments, it spreads easily. It is dangerous for those with reduced immunity or with already damaged tissue (wounds). It can lead to sepsis and can be fatal if it colonizes in vital organs such as the lungs and kidneys.
The bacteria can be found on medical equipment causing cross-hospital outbreaks.
How did it get in to Southmead Hospital?
It is reported that the bacteria entered the hospital via the water supply. Once identified, Southmead hospital took precautions to prevent the spread of pseudomonas by fitting filters to their taps and washing the babies in only sterile, bottled water. Staff were asked to adhere to strict infection control measures and the water systems are now tested more regularly.
How dangerous is pseudomonas?
Psuedomonas is only fatal if it enters the blood stream. Of the 12 babies infected, most developed only minor or superficial infections. The danger of this bacteria, as with many others, is when it attacks those who are already very unwell and whose immune systems are extremely compromised – this will of course apply to very premature babies but clearly many other patients in hospital could be at risk.
Pseudomonas is just one of a number of infections found in hospitals in the UK. Southmead hospital has clearly investigated this outbreak and managed to track the source of the outbreak but in many case of hospital infection it is not possible to trace the original source of the bacteria.
Hospital Infections (Hospital Acquired Infection)
Hospital infections are well known in the UK particularly in NHS hospitals where some infections, often known as “hospital acquired infections” (very commonly MRSA and C-Diff) have been responsible for vast numbers of deaths or severe illness in patients whose immune systems are already compromised. It is absolutely critical for hospitals to exercise strict infection control policies and many hospitals have been criticised for failing to do so. Many attribute the commonality of hospital acquired infections to a long standing poor standard of hospital cleaning and cleanliness from when hospital cleaning was subcontracted out of the NHS. There are now strict guidelines issued to hospitals regarding cleanliness and infection control and hospitals and staff must adhere to these guidelines and controls. However, these common infections are now rife in society. Patients often bring the infection in to hospital with them in to the hospital on their skin. The infection will often only become active once the skin is broken (through surgery or otherwise).
Infection is a major problem for the healthcare system and for patients. The contraction of infection by patients will rarely be considered negligent. However, negligence may be established if appropriate infection controls were not in place or not adhered to or if there was a failure to diagnose and treat the infection once contracted. Many surgical procedures should be supported by intra-operative antibiotics as a prevention of infection. In such cases the failure to do so may be considered negligent.
If you have concerns about a hospital acquired infection or other medical negligence matter then please contact us or free phone 0800 316 8892 and ask to speak to a member of our specialist medical negligence team.