Canterbury DHB is increasing vigilance around hand hygiene after three people in Canterbury have tested positive as potential carriers of the rare bacteria Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
CRE is a family of bacteria resistant to nearly all antibiotics. None of the patients had an infection, which occurs when the presence of CRE causes illness.
Carbapenems are a group of antibiotics often used to treat complex infections and when other antibiotics have been found to be ineffective.
Dr Nigel Millar, Canterbury DHB Medical Officer of Health, says that since the multi antibiotic-resistant form of these bacteria is extremely rare, it is likely that two of the cases were hospital-acquired. The patients are no longer in hospital.
"Although bugs like these are rare, our health system is well prepared," Dr Millar says.
"We have systems in place to identify these types of organisms and prevent them from spreading such as isolating any patients who test positive for the bacteria. It was through routine clinical care and screening that these CRE colonisations were first identified."
Once the bacteria are in the human gut, they are there for life. Carriers will not show any symptoms and under normal circumstances, will never know the resistant bacteria are even there.
Dr Millar says these cases serve as a timely reminder that the first line of defence against any bacteria is thorough hand washing.
"Good infection prevention practices are an essential part of health care and perhaps the single most important thing we can do to keep patients and ourselves safer," he says.
"It is everyone's responsibility to wash their hands frequently, especially after going to the toilet and before preparing and eating food."
Dr Millar says there is worldwide concern about the continuing development and spread of antibiotic resistance.
"No new classes of antibiotics have been discovered in the past 20 years and unless that situation changes, we will encounter more bacteria that we can't treat effectively.
"It is therefore essential that we control and curtail our use of antibiotics and use them wisely."
Here are some of the actions Canterbury DHB has taken to date:
We are checking contacts of the three patients with confirmed colonisations to understand if there are signs of spread - none has been found at present
We are following up with all health professionals who were or will be involved in the care of these three patients
Other DHBs, the Ministry of Health and the Health Quality and Safety Commission have been informed. We are in the process of informing other health care professionals who work with vulnerable people, such as hospitals, Aged Residential Care facilities, community nursing and General Practice.
Although the level of public risk has been assessed as low, more information can be found at
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