Superbugs a growing problem for NZ

01:50, Nov 19 2013
Dr Mark Jones
DR MARK JONES: Specialist clinical microbiologist and molecular pathologist at Wellington Hospital and Aotea Pathology.

Following the death of a Wellington man after he contracted a superbug resistant to all antibiotics, microbiologist Dr Mark Jones answered readers' questions in a live chat.

Dr Mark Jones is a specialist clinical microbiologist and molecular pathologist at Wellington Hospital and Aotea Pathology. He is an examiner in microbiology for the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia. Originally from Wales, he has worked in microbiology and infection control in hospitals in the UK and New Zealand. Dr Jones has a special interest in the epidemiology and control of infectious diseases and antibiotic resistant organisms.

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Brian Pool
LONG FIGHT: Brian Pool's death was unrelated to the bug, but doctors say his immune system was weakened by fighting the superbug bacteria.

TEACHER NZ'S FIRST SUPERBUG VICTIM

He died fighting a superbug that no antibiotic in the world could touch.

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Wellington teacher Brian Pool is believed to be New Zealand's first victim of an aggressive superbug, caught while he was overseas, that is resistant to every type of antibiotic.

Mr Pool, 68, spent most of the last six months of his life in quarantine, unable to leave his room even to sit in the courtyard.

"It was sad because we couldn't give him a hug, we couldn't really kiss him," twin sister Maureen Dunn said.

"He just wanted to get out in the sun, and we couldn't take him out.

"Being his twin sister, I would be the one who always rescued him . . . it was terrible, but there was nothing we could do."

Her brother died on July 6, from complications caused by a stroke and unrelated to the bug.

But doctors say his immune system was weakened by fighting the nightmare bacteria.

The adventurous teacher, known for his quirky sense of humour, was living in Vietnam and teaching English when he suffered a brain haemorrhage on January 6.

He had surgery in Vietnam, where part of his skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain, and was flown to New Zealand.

In Wellington Hospital, he was immediately isolated, a standard precaution for overseas patients.

Tests revealed he was carrying a strain of bacterium known as KPC-Oxa 48 - a "pan-resistant" organism that repels every kind of antibiotic.

"Nothing would touch it. Absolutely nothing," Wellington Hospital clinical microbiologist Mark Jones said yesterday.

"It's the first one that we've ever seen that is resistant to every single antibiotic known.

"This man was in the post-antibiotic era, and this is why so many agencies over the world are raising alarm bells."

Earlier this year, British chief medical officer Sally Davies described resistance to antibiotics as a "catastrophic global threat" that should be ranked alongside terrorism.

New Zealand hospitals are already seeing increasing cases of multi-resistant "superbugs", which can be treated by only a limited number of expensive antibiotics.

Ms Dunn said the family was frightened, and even Mr Pool's doctors did not seem to know what the superbug might do.

"They were shit scared, to put it bluntly, in case these bugs were transferred to another patient or taken out into the community."

The message to others was clear, she said: "Don't have an operation in a hospital overseas."

Wellington Hospital infectious disease physician Michelle Balm said people needed to realise the dangers of medical tourism.

Mr Pool's superbug could have been contracted when he was in hospital in Vietnam, or a few years earlier when he had hernia surgery in India.

"We would encourage people to think very hard about the consequences of it - we recognise people's desire to get things done, but the risks are so great."

The Dominion Post