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Infection Control Reminder To Health Professionals

Infection Control Reminder To Health Professionals

Otago Public health services are reminding health professionals of the need for good infection control when dealing with any patient, following three sudden unexpected deaths in Dunedin.

Otago Medical Officer of Health Dr John Holmes says the three cases are all relatively young individuals in their 40s and 50s with no obvious risk factors and who would not normally be expected to die suddenly.

The preliminary indications for all three cases suggest pneumonia. Further investigation into the causes of death, including detailed interviews with family members and diagnostic testing of specimens to identify possible causes of death are continuing on behalf of the Coroner. Investigations to date have not been able to identify any virus or bacteria linked to the deaths.

Dr Holmes extended his sympathy to the families of the three individuals concerned. He says health authorities are asking media to respect the privacy of the families involved, all of whom have the right to grieve undisturbed.

No other cases of illness have been reported linked to these deaths and the deaths all occurred within ten days, the first death was now over two weeks ago.

All three patients were previously well; they all had a sudden onset of symptoms and died within hours. All three patients came from a small geographical area in Dunedin.

Dr Holmes says some comfort may be taken from the fact that no other cases have been detected, which suggests that the level of infectivity is low. However, he stresses it is important to err on the side of caution and families of those individuals who have died have been given advice on the need to seek urgent medical attention at Dunedin Hospital. All contacts of these patients, including hospital staff, are now being followed up.

The three cases do not appear related and there is no obvious contact between the three, however due to the unusual nature of these deaths in a small geographic area, we are taking appropriate precautions.

Dr Holmes says the Ministry of Health has also been alerted to the three sudden deaths and the Ministry is advising all emergency departments within hospitals to have a higher index of suspicion for similar cases and to ensure good infection control policies are strictly followed.

Otago DHB public health services have reminded health professionals dealing with patients with collapse or shock or with sudden onset of breathing problems or pneumonia to take precautions including washing hands and being gloved, gowned and masked.

In particular, precautionary safety measures have been put in place in the Dunedin public hospital emergency department and the St John's ambulance service for situations where patients with similar symptoms may be treated. Local general practitioners are being alerted.

Dr Holmes says its timely to remind the public that anyone concerned about reducing their risk of infection should follow measures to limit the spread of disease. These measures include regularly washing hands with soap, particularly after using the toilet, washing hands before eating and after sneezing or blowing your nose, and to avoid coughing or sneezing over others. Individuals who are ill should seek prompt medical advice.

All three cases have been reported to the Coroner who will make final determination of the cause of death.

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