No new cases of superbug VRE, says Caritas Medical Centre

Caritas Medical Centre succeeds in battle against the bacteria that has plagued it for two years

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 4:41am

A public hospital in Sham Shui Po that for two years was plagued by a drug-resistant superbug says it has had no new cases since June.

The Caritas Medical Centre had been battling to rid its wards of VRE, or vancomycin-resistant enterococci. It had found more than 100 carriers of the superbug.

But infection control unit nurse consultant Annie Leung Fat-ying said the measures to tackle the bacteria had been "quite successful".

They included a computer system to identify which patients had been in contact with VRE carriers, and an extra 10 staff were hired to focus on hygiene and cleaning.

Staff also received extra training on maintaining hygiene and cleaning of areas which get more frequent contact was stepped up, using newer methods such as hydrogen peroxide vapour.

"Through our control programme, taking a multi-pronged approach, the number of VRE cases or carriers has dropped," Leung said.

"We see that the last case was in June 2012. Up until now, we have not had a new case … You can see our control programme has been quite successful."

The measures were taken in addition to a "find and confine" strategy recommended by the Hospital Authority, to search for carriers and infected patients and isolate them from others.

Caritas found its first case of VRE in September 2010.

The number of carriers and cases rose in 2011 to reach a peak of 27 carriers in January last year. By June, it had seen 15 cases and 113 carriers.

Infection control officer Dr To Wing-kin said it was a valuable lesson for the hospital.

"I personally think this is quite a good example. Best of all, it can be a drill. If in future there is a very serious disease, we hope we can act in a similar way and control it well," To said.

Enterococci normally exists in intestines and the female genital tract, but it can cause infections.

It can kill if it infects the brain or enters an open wound and vancomycin is usually used to treat enterococci infections. The first outbreak of VRE in Hong Kong occurred in 1997.

The Department of Health said the Centre for Health Protection was notified of 16 clusters of VRE infection at public hospitals last year. One case was reported last Thursday, the first one for the year.

However, since doctors are not required to report VRE to the department, these figures might not reflect all the cases in the city.