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Deadly 'superbug' continues to stalk Maryland hospital

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

After months of diligence and cleanup, officials were apparently too quick to say that the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland had eradicated traces of the deadly NIH virus. That came to an end earlier this month when a young boy succumbed to the infection.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The boy was the 19th patient to contract the antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae. The germ first made inroads in August 2011 with a New York woman who needed a lung transplant.

The boy's illness and death was the first new infection of this superbug at NIH since January. This dashes hopes that the bug had been banished from the huge brick-and-glass federal facility in Bethesda.

"It's heartbreaking," John Gallin, the physician-researcher who directs the clinical center says. "What happened this summer was a very unfortunate case. All of these cases are hugely sad cases."

The boy came to the hospital in April after complications arose from a bone marrow transplant he received last year. His already compromised immune system increased his risk of acquiring the superbug.

"We worried he was set up for a bad infection," said Gallin.

Routine rectal swabs of patients for hospital-borne infections last July 25, a measure put in place during the worst of the outbreak last fall detected the superbug in the boy.

Genetic analysis showed the boy's strain matched that of the superbug that arrived last year, which eventually spread to 17 additional patients, of whom 11 died. Six of those deaths were directly attributed to the superbug by NIH staff.

NIH staff members built a wall to isolate infected patients, tore out plumbing that harbored the bacteria, hired monitors to ensure doctors and nurses were properly scrubbing their hands and even blasted patients' rooms with vaporized disinfectant.

Infections had ceased in January and for six months, no new patients became infected.

That came to an end after the boy tested positive for the superbug in July. Clinic staffers isolated him in the intensive-care unit and raced to treat the infection.

After a week of therapy, the infection grew impervious to the sole drug that appeared to help. The NIH then obtained an experimental antibiotic, but it also failed.

"This kid probably got this infection because a patient who was a carrier [of the superbug] was on the same unit," Gallin says. "There was undoubtedly some intra-hospital transmission despite our best efforts."

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