All inpatients at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei will undergo tests for a deadly drug-resistant superbug from the end of the month after the hospital detected an unusually high number of infections.
The hospital had the most number of cases of the vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) bacteria in the city, the Hospital Authority said.
It accounted for about half of the 703 new infections found in central Kowloon hospitals this year, the authority's chief infection control officer Dr Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong said, without giving a precise figure.
Tsang attributed the spike to increased testing and the inadequacy of some facilities, such as isolation rooms at the old hospital, which celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday.
"VRE cases are often related to three causes - patient segregation, hand cleanliness and environmental hygiene," he said.
Queen Elizabeth also had more patients who suffered from severe illnesses and that could play a part, he noted. Doctors usually refrained from isolating such patients even if they carried the virus because moving them could exacerbate their condition. "Clinical care carries a higher priority," Tsang said.
VRE is a bacteria that is resistant to vancomycin, a strong antibiotic. The bug can exist in the body without causing infection, but can kill if it infects the brain or enters an open wound.
From March until May, the four hospitals in central Kowloon - Queen Elizabeth, Kowloon Hospital, the Eye Hospital and Buddhist Hospital - had 102 to 132 infections a month, the authority said.
In February, the cluster of hospitals recorded only 23 cases.
From September 30, Queen Elizabeth will run four weeks of VRE screening. Tsang expected the hospital to take about 5,000 samples for testing, up from the usual 1,500 a month.
Laboratories in Queen Mary, Princess Margaret and United Christian hospitals will help run the tests. The city recorded 912 carriers of the bacteria from 2011, of which 33 came down with the bug, Tsang said.
The infection rate was 3.62 per cent, a result that Tsang described as "not alarming".
At Queen Elizabeth, fewer than 70 per cent of workers in busier wards, such as internal medicine, followed hand-washing procedures before handling patients, according to observations. In some cases, the rate dipped to 40 per cent, Tsang said.
He dismissed claims that outbreaks at other hospitals originated from Queen Elizabeth. The VRE strain found in Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan, for instance, was different from that in Queen Elizabeth, he said.