Birmingham NHS patients test positive for new PVL superbug
A rare deadly new superbug that can kill within 48 hours is on the rise in Birmingham hospitals, disclosed NHS documents have revealed.
Infection professors have warned that dangerous Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) could be the next superbug to strike at the heart of the NHS in the wake of MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C.diff) after it rapidly spread across America, affecting schools and playgrounds.
Latest figures acquired through a Freedom of Information Act by the Birmingham Post show more than 40 patients have tested positive in Birmingham and the Black Country in recent tests for the more virilent and dangerous form of MRSA.
This comes on top of the first 33 cases across the greater West Midlands from 2004 to early 2007 when PVL MRSA claimed two lives including nurse Maribel Espada, aged 33, from Stoke-on-Trent, who contracted the bug following an emergency caesarian at University Hospital of North Staffordshire in September 2006.
A second victim, who died months later,was one of Mrs Espada’s patients and nine other people in close contact with them were treated for a less harmful strain of the bug. A third unnamed Midland victim then died in January last year.
The data shows Sandwell Hospital, in West Bromwich, and City Hospital, in Winson Green, recorded 23 patients testing positive for PVL, while Walsall Manor Hospital’s microbiology service recorded nine cases when doing tests for patients in hospital and also in the community.
Mid Staffordshire Hospitals also had five positive tests for PVL MRSA in the past year, but said they were all acquired outside Stafford and Cannock hospitals, in the community.
While Heartlands Hospital, in Bordesley Green, said even though data was “not routinely captured” on PVL MRSA cases, a “small number had been observed”. The investigation also revealed that more than 77 wards were forced to be shut down at Midland hospitals in the past year, affecting hundreds of patients, due to constant outbreaks of norovirus, diarrhoea and other infections.
Tony Field, spokesman for Birmingham-based MRSA Support, said it was extremely worrying to see PVL cases on the rise across the city.
“PVL is still relatively rare and anything that can show a resistance to antibiotics is a very bad deal,” said Mr Field.
“This all comes down to how the hospitals are coping with cleaning issues and all this could be avoided by tackling the airborne factor of superbugs with air purifiers along with making sure wards are cleaned thoroughly.
“Most of these infections can be tackled – 90 per cent by tackling the air and ten per cent handwashing – but hospitals won’t listen to this expert advice.”
The bug, which first emerged in the 1930s, was not common in the UK. But some strains are believed to have now mutated with MRSA to cause boils and destroy infection-fighting white blood cells.
Although many PVL infections are treatable with antibiotics, more virilent forms resistant to antibiotics can rapidly eat away at the lungs and cause pneumonia with the potential to kill young people and even babies within hours.
It commonly surfaces at schools as it can enter the bloodstream through cuts and grazes and gyms.
Beryl Oppenheim, director of infection control for City and Sandwell hospitals, said: “Of the patients whose tests were positive for PVL, all were given treatment to eradicate it, and none developed any serious infection.
“The trust routinely screens all patients coming in for planned surgical procedures in its MRSA screening programme and takes infection control extremely seriously.”
A Walsall Hospital Trust spokeswoman said its labs did PVL tests for the whole of Walsall and not just patients within the town’s hospital of which there was a total of nine.