A senior Birmingham NHS infection expert has warned that a lack of screening for a dangerous new superbug poses one of the biggest risks to hospitals.
Infection prevention director for Sandwell and West Birmingham Trust, Beryl Oppenheim, said two people had now been treated for NDM-1 at City and Sandwell hospitals and had been issued with warning letters to give doctors the next time they visit a hospital.
She added that she was very “worried” about the threat of the bug, which can cause fatal pneumonia and urinary tract infections, as a separate ‘cluster’ had struck in Shropshire.
The director also raised fears that lack of screening meant more hospitals could become infected unwittingly.
The superbug, which originated in New Delhi in 2008, has sparked global fears and a nationwide alert here, because it is so resistant to most antibiotics. Around 50 people have been infected in the UK in the past three years.
In many cases, it is believed to have been brought to the UK by cosmetic surgery tourists who have had operations in India.
“NDM-1 is of particular concern as it is a group of bacteria that is highly resistant and difficult to treat,” said Miss Oppenheim.
“Our lab has seen two cases and there has been a cluster in another part of the region, so I think this is the one infection to watch.
“It’s a very worrying story because there is no real screening for it and the germs are impossible to treat. It’s not something that is in the hospital’s control.”
Miss Oppenheim feared that those infected could visit hospitals and not notify staff they were carrying the bug.
“Our community staff have been to see two patients and given them a letter to show next time they are at an A&E, which is fine to do with two people, but there may by many more in the long run.”
The Health Protection Agency in the West Midlands said officers were monitoring NDM-1 as part of their routine work, in collaboration with NHS microbiology colleagues and laboratories in the region.
Chris Bentley, regional Health Protection Agency spokesman, said: “The Health Protection Agency has been conducting monitoring and surveillance of bacteria which show unusual patterns of antibiotic resistance since the late 1980s.
"The agency has particular concerns about all bacteria that shows resistance to multiple antibiotics and has warned of the need to develop new antibiotics as well as the need to use existing antibiotics better and to prevent hospital-acquired infections.
“When hard-to-treat infections with multiple antibiotic resistance are confirmed, the HPA provides advice to hospitals on infection control measures and in the identification of appropriate antibiotic therapy.
“All laboratories have mechanisms in place to enable them to identify these and other resistant organisms at an early stage and so institute appropriate measures both to treat and prevent further spread.”
A Birmingham patient was first discovered with the dangerous bacteria in November last year, after visiting a city GP with a urinary tract infection, but it is unclear how they were infected.
The bug contains enzyme “New Delhi metallo-betalactamase” and the worry is that it could transfer its antibiotic resistance to other more dangerous bacteria. The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal has reported findings that NDM-1 is present in one to three per cent of patients in India
Some of the infected British patients had travelled to India for kidney or bone marrow transplants, dialysis, pregnancy care or burns treatment and tummy tucks before bringing it back to the UK.
Previous cases have emerged in holidaymakers who picked up the bacteria while hospitalised in Greece and Turkey.