Drug-resistant superbug a factor in seven deaths in Limerick

CPE, which is resistant to most forms of antibiotics, ‘contributed’ to deaths in hospital

A highly drug resistant superbug contributed to the deaths of seven patients in University Hospital Limerick, a report to be published by the HSE on Tuesday is expected to state.

A review of 36 patient deaths at the hospital concluded that the CPE superbug, which is resistant to most forms of antibiotics, was not directly responsible for any of the deaths. All of the seven patients where it was a contributory factor had other serious medical conditions.

The investigation was carried out by UK microbiologist Dr Robert Spencer after a whistleblower provided details of the patient deaths to the local coroner. On foot of the 60-page report, staff have been reminded of the requirement to notify the coroner of healthcare infections associated with patient deaths.

UL Hospital Group has been battling an outbreak of CPE for the past two years. Some 39 new cases were reported last year.


Associative role

No death arose as a "direct consequence of CPE acquisition but there were seven patient deaths identified in the whistleblower's list in which the superbug played "an associative role", according to UL Hospitals Group chief clinical director, Prof Paul Burke.

Carbapenemase Producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) is the newest in a long line of bacteria that are extremely difficult to kill with antibiotics.

Of all the superbugs, CPE is the most resistant to antibiotics. It lives harmlessly in the gut in healthy people but can be lethal if it gets into the bloodstream or urine. It poses a particular risk to older people and those with reduced immune system function. In August the HSE said hospitals are to contact some 5,000 people who may have been exposed to CPE while they were inpatients.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times