Over 2,000 people exposed to superbug at Tallaght Hospital

Dublin centre has had an outbreak of a potentially lethal bug for the past 18 months

More than 2,000 people at Tallaght Hospital have come into contact with a potentially lethal superbug since an outbreak began 18 months ago. Photograph: David Sleator

More than 2,000 people at Tallaght Hospital have come into contact with a potentially lethal superbug since an outbreak began 18 months ago. Photograph: David Sleator

 

More than 2,000 people at Tallaght Hospital have come into contact with a potentially lethal superbug since an outbreak began 18 months ago.

Although most would have tested negative for the antibiotic-resistant bug, 142 patients were found to be carriers, according to internal figures seen by The Irish Times.

Three people were found to have an invasive form of carbapenem resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which has a mortality rate of up to 50 per cent among vulnerable patients.

The number of cases has declined since last autumn, though earlier this month the hospital recorded 22 patients who are carriers of CRE and 11 who have come into contact with the bacterium.

The figures show that the superbug has been a problem in Tallaght for far longer than was previously known.

It was previously reported that the outbreak of CRE began last August but internal records show cases dating back to 2015.

Contact cases

The hospital has consistently declined to specify the size of the current outbreak, which forced the closure of wards last August.

A spokeswoman said it was continuing to manage a number of CRE cases, but the number of new cases was steadily reducing.

“All current inpatients with CRE are carriers and thus experience no symptoms or harm. In rare cases, this can develop into an infection which can be difficult to treat.”

Contact cases can arise when, for example, patients share toilet facilities with others who are diagnosed as carriers.

The hospital has allocated extra resources to infection control, expanded a screening programme and put on an extensive staff education campaign to deal with the problem.

Measures taken to counter the threat posed by the outbreak have affected hospital services and visiting arrangements.

A “one visitor” per patient rule is in operation, and children are not permitted to visit in any circumstances.

Test results

At-risk patients need to be put in isolation until test results are available but a shortage of such facilities in Tallaght has hampered efforts to deal with the outbreak.

The spokeswoman said staff were working to minimise disruption, but this was contributing to pressures on the emergency department as well as affecting the flow of patients through the hospital.

As a result, less urgent cases were experiencing delays during very busy periods.

A similar outbreak in the midwest has contributed to a number of patient deaths over the past six years.

CRE is a family of bacteria which can cause infection and are difficult, though not impossible, to treat.

They don’t usually pose a risk for healthy people but can be problematic for people with compromised immune systems.

CRE germs are usually spread person-to-person through contact with infected people, particularly contact with wounds or stools.

They can cause infections when they enter the body, often through medical devices, such as ventilators and catheters, or wounds caused by injury or surgery.