Blood therapy

Rare superbug found in sick woman who had 'anti-cancer' blood therapy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 10:02am

A rare but highly dangerous superbug was found in one of the four women who fell critically ill after receiving blood transfusion therapy at a DR beauty centre, health officials said yesterday.

The antibiotic-resistant bacterium found in the 46-year-old woman, who remains in a critical condition in Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai, was initially identified by the Department of Health as Mycobacterium abscessus.

The bacterium almost guaranteed death if those infected developed multiple organ failure, said microbiologist Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong. Ho said there was a 50 per cent chance a person would die if the bacterium was in their blood.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man described the bacterium as "rare" and seldom found in patients.

It was also suspected that two other women, aged 56 and 60, had the bacterium or a similar species, pending further laboratory results. The younger woman is in a serious condition; the older one remains critical. The fourth woman, 59 - elder sister of the DR centre's founder, Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing - is in a stable condition.

Given the highly antibiotic-resistant nature of the superbug, the doctors had to rely on a cocktail of several strong antibiotics for treatment, Ko said.

Ho said the bacterium existed in the environment, including in soil, dust, water sources and animals, but it carried no health threats in normal circumstances.

The bacterium was suspected to have caused septic shock in the four patients after they had the "anti-cancer" blood transfusion therapy at the DR beauty clinic. The therapy involves customers having some blood drawn, which is then processed to harvest the "cytokine-induced killer cells", or CIK, found in white blood cells.

Former Medical Council chairwoman Felice Lieh Mak said the government should provide clear legislation to distinguish between medical and health treatments.

"[My] view is as simple as this: any injection into the human body amounts to a medical treatment, which should be performed by doctors," she said.