For the first time, details have been revealed over the containment of an untreatable superbug, which killed six people.
Doctors were left clueless as the drug-resistant germ spread throughout the National Institute of Health, America’s leading research hospital in Washington DC.
The outbreak started when one patient was found to be carrying a relatively new superbug called KPC (Klebsiella Pneumonia). KPC is highly resistant to drugs, including one of the most potent antibiotics, Carbapenem, enough to cause ward-wide panic in any hospital.
The NIH is unique amongst hospitals in that its only patients are those who have enrolled in government-funded research. It has less than 250 beds, yet the KPC still spread over a terrifying six-month period.
By the end, a new patient was catching it every week. Eighteen people in total became infected by the superbug, and 6 of them died from resultant blood infections. Of the remainder, five patients succumbed to the illnesses which had initially brought them to the pioneering hospital.
The outbreak began in June last year when a patient was transferred from New York, due to a rare lung disease. When it was discovered she had KPC, too, she was immediately placed in isolation. Her room was decontaminated, and any visitors wore protective suits and gloves. Other patients underwent regular tests, but no trace of the superbug was found.
The patient left the hospital, but three weeks later, another patient was found to have contracted KPC. They had caught it off the primary carrier, but they had been wards apart, and the restrictive measures imposed had been followed rigorously.
The NIH activated emergency quarantine procedures for their patients. They embarked on a cleaning procedure so thorough that the plumbing was replaced, but, to their alarm, the staff discovered that the bug was still capable of surviving in the ventilators and drains.
The standard strain of Klebsiella can survive in the human intestine but is efficiently dealt with by a healthy immune system. This new version is far stronger and almost wholly drug-resistant. It spreads quickly between sick patients, often appearing without symptoms. It lives in the lungs and intestines, causing meningitis, pneumonia, and other fatal illnesses.
The scientists, doctors, and research staff at the NIH have released this information so that it can act as a warning and a wake-up call for all other hospitals around the world. Just under 100,000 lives are lost due to hospital-based infections, but many hospitals fear to discuss it, due to the panic and negative attention the details can cause.