8 December 2005
MRSA At Christchurch Women’s Hospital
A variant of the common bacteria staphylococcus aureus has been identified at Christchurch Women’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with four babies returning positive swab results and although it has been colloquially described as a ‘superbug’ there are standard effective treatments available.
Staphylococcus aureus is common in Neonatal Units, a third of all people carry the organism usually in their nose and it is easily spread by contact. Anybody including babies can have the bacteria but exhibit no symptoms. In vulnerable people such as babies, they can cause minor or major infection. Staphylococcus aureus has increased dramatically in New Zealand since reporting began in 1990.
The strain of staphylococcus aureus identified at Christchurch Women’s Hospital’s has taken up to 11 days to identify. Laboratory workers noticed this particular strain and sent it to Environmental Science and Research (ESR) for identification which confirmed the strain as Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). However, it is sensitive to other antibiotics.
MRSA is different to the Gentamicin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (GRSA) which was found at Wellington’s Neonatal Unit earlier this year.
The Canterbury District Health Board maintains very rigorous systems to limit the risk of MRSA outbreaks which have been very uncommon here compared to elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas.
“For us this is an unusual event and in fact it is because of our high level of vigilance that is was discovered. Rigorous procedures are in place to reduce the risk of any further transmission”, said Dr Nigel Millar, Chief Medical Officer of the Canterbury District Health Board.
“Despite our best efforts we recognise that this is a thing that may happen from time to time”, he said. “Our aim is always to identify MRSA as early as possible and to respond vigorously.”
There have been no serious infections attributed to this organism. There have been no septicaemias. The hospital admits between 740 and 750 babies in its Neonatal Unit each year.
The unit allows parents, siblings and extended family members to visit babies, two at a time. The hospital has contacted other District Health Boards that have gone through similar experiences in the past year. If staffing levels are affected, babies that may require admission to the unit will be transferred before birth.
The hospital has begun screening all babies and staff. No affected staff have been identified from screening already undertaken over the last month.
“We know it is a difficult and stressful time for parents having a baby in the unit, but we want to assure them that we are well prepared to handle this problem.
In April this year, neonatal staff, were screened as a precautionary measure and parents of babies in the unit were informed about Staphylococcus aureus due to the outbreak in Wellington, so we are reactivating our plans and infection control procedures from that event. The organism is not in the Birthing Suite, Maternity and Gynaecology wards or Children’s wards” said Dr Millar.
“Of the 30 in the unit now, no baby is known to be colonised. Our modern new Neonatal Unit will allow us to care for all new admissions in a separate area. This has occurred from the 7th of December”, he said.
General Manager Pauline Burt praised staff handling of the outbreak.