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Infection control issue in Wellington NICU

28 April 2005

Media Release: Infection control issue in Wellington NICU

Wellington Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is imposing strict infection control measures while work is done to eradicate an apparently new strain of Staphylococcus aureus.

Around a third of all people in New Zealand carry Staph aureus – without showing any signs of infection. The hospital’s laboratory staff monitor all infections in the NICU and throughout the hospital, and routinely test for Staph aureus.

Last year they identified a new strain and began monitoring and testing for it. Late last year the number of infections began to increase and heightened infection control measures were put in place. These were initially effective, but in recent weeks this particular strain has replaced the other strains of Staph aureus found in the neonatal unit.

“We are now taking steps in a bid to eradicate this bacterium,” says hospital microbiologist Mark Jones.

These include restricting the number of new admissions, introducing isolation areas, reducing visitors to ‘parents only’, carrying out further testing and treating of all staff, and taking those staff who test positive off clinical duties. NICU staff are also providing extensive information and support to those families who have babies in the unit at present.

“Very premature babies are vulnerable to infection from a wide range of agents, including many strains of Staph aureus. We treat between 750 and 800 babies in our NICU each year, and despite our strenuous efforts each year between 20 and 30 of those babies do not survive. Often infection is a contributing cause in these tragic deaths. This is true for all NICU units.

“This new strain of Staph aureus is no exception. In 2005 around three dozen babies in NICU have contracted this new strain. Most of these cases have been successfully treated with antibiotics. Sadly three of those babies have subsequently died. The affected families have been informed of this linkage, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.

“Families who have had a baby cared for in our NICU who has subsequently been discharged, have no need for concern. It’s also important to note that this infection is limited to NICU, and is not present in other parts of our hospital.

“In addition to our own highly skilled staff, we are in regular contact with experts at other NICU units both nationally and internationally, and share approaches, strategies and peer reviewing with them as appropriate.

“With our multilayered approach, we are hopeful that this new strain of Staph aureus can be eradicated, and that our NICU will be back in full use within a month or so,” Dr Jones said.

Capital & Coast DHB chief executive Margot Mains has relayed her appreciation to staff for the work they have done in identifying this new strain of Staph aureus, and for their considerable efforts to bring this bacterium under control and work towards its eradication.

“The wellbeing of patients and their families is of paramount importance. Staff across this organisation are demonstrating their commitment, dedication and expertise in their vigorous response to this new strain of Staph aureus,” Margot Mains says.

ENDS

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