Four patients treated for superbug at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Yau Ma Tei

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2012, 3:24am

Four male patients at the public Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei are carrying a drug-resistant superbug that a microbiologist says is like "having a bomb with them".

The vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) bug can exist in the body without causing infection, but can kill if it infects the brain or enters an open wound.

A fifth patient being treated in the neurosurgery department died yesterday, but his death has been attributed to his underlying condition rather than the bug.

Experts say an outbreak of a superbug like VRE indicates a serious deficiency in a hospital's infection control regime and shows that "the environment is too dirty or congested".

Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said: "VRE usually has a very low attacking power and poses little threat to most people, but to these carriers who are also suffering from serious brain conditions, it is like have a bomb with them all the time."

He said it would cause "catastrophic conditions" if it entered a wound or the patient's brain.

The bug came to light when a 29-year-old man being treated for a brain tumour was found to be carrying VRE last Friday. Four more men were later confirmed to be carrying the bacteria after an investigation by medical staff.

None of the four, who are being treated in isolation, is showing symptoms of infection, the Hospital Authority said.

Ho said the city's first VRE outbreak was discovered in 1997, when almost all of the patients in a neurosurgery ward were found to be carrying the bug.

Hospital chiefs have met the authority's inspection control team and experts at the Centre for Health Protection.