Killer bacteria found at Lismore Base Hospital

AN antibiotic-resistant 'superbug' has been detected at Lismore Base Hospital, with three patients quarantined as a precautionary measure.

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) was recently detected in 29 patients at Coffs Harbour and the outbreak shut down elective surgery at the hospital for several days.

Three of the infected patients died, but Chris Crawford, North Coast Area Health Service CEO, said they had died from existing illnesses, not VRE.

A spokesman for the health service said although VRE could be carried harmlessly by up to 2 per cent of the general population, the bacteria could make existing illnesses worse.

"For this reason, all possible steps are taken to isolate any patients with VRE, to thoroughly clean the environments with which they have had contact, to screen any patients who they may have been in contact with, and to explain the situation to these patients," he said.

Citing privacy issues, the spokesman said he was unable to confirm rumours the bacteria was found in a kidney transplant patient in the Base Hospital's surgical ward.

He said the discovery of VRE was 'not of significant concern' and there would be no interruption to surgery at the hospital.

According to a Federal Government Department of Health website, VRE is a bacteria that 'may infect seriously ill patients, causing life threatening infections that respond poorly to most commonly used antibiotics'.

It was first detected in the USA in the 1980s and in Australia in 1994.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms has been attributed to the overuse of broad spectrum antibiotics in humans.

There is also some concern that inappropriate veterinary use of antibiotics can lead to the development of resistant bacteria which could infect humans.

So far one patient had been confirmed to have the bacteria and two other patients had been removed and placed in single-bed rooms.

Initial pathology testing of those patients had been negative.

"It is possible the patient in question was VRE-infected before coming to Lismore Base Hospital," the spokesman said.

"The usual stringent infection control measures minimise the risk of contact with other patients or staff."

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