Superbug epidemic unlikely in New Zealand, health experts say

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

There are various kinds of superbugs that can be contracted during surgery. Photo / Thinsktock
There are various kinds of superbugs that can be contracted during surgery. Photo / Thinsktock

People should not fear a superbug epidemic following a recent death, experts say, as there are strict procedures in place to prevent a widespread outbreak.

Experts at the Auckland District Health Board and Environmental Science & Research said people should not worry or feel threatened by superbugs, but make sure that they keep up good hygiene practices.

It comes after reports that a Wellington man, Brian Pool, died while fighting a superbug dubbed KPC-Oxa 48. The strain of bacterium is a kind of superbug - labelled so because of its ability to repel all forms of antibiotics.

The 61-year-old had been in Vietnam working as a teacher when he was hospitalised and then later underwent surgery there.

He was brought back to a hospital in New Zealand where he suffered a stroke that was unrelated to his having the bug - but doctors said his immune system had been weakened by it.

There are various kinds of superbugs that can be contracted during surgery.

Another kind, NDM-1, originated from India. It has been found in bacteria such as E. coli and can cause urinary tract infections, abdominal infections and pneumonia.

Auckland City Hospital clinical microbiologist and infectious diseases physician Dr Sally Roberts said yesterday that there were solid systems in place when dealing with patients thought to have contracted a superbug.

"Most people who acquire a superbug will have got it while travelling in a developing country, such as Vietnam or India ... and then ended up in a hospital there - where they have picked it up.

"When a patient is repatriated to us, that patient is put into their own room and effectively isolated. Our staff also take caution around them and hygiene systems are thoroughly followed."

Dr Roberts said there had been about 30 cases of patients with a kind of superbug admitted to Auckland hospitals over the past five or six years.

She said most of the time, bacteria such as these sit harmlessly in people's systems and are never noticed. But getting sick - or worse - can depend on a person's immune system or the kind of operation performed.

Environmental Science & Research clinical microbiologist Dr Deborah Williamson acknowledged that antibiotic resistance was a major public health threat internationally.

But that was more of an issue - or threat - to developing countries.

"In general, we know that in certain parts of the world, these very resistant bacteria are very prevalent in hospitals.

"New Zealand's certainly not immune to this, but we do have strong systems in place to detect these organisms."

What is it?

* A superbug is a bacterium that is resistant to antibiotics

* It has emerged over time because of the misuse and overuse of antibiotic.

- NZ Herald

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