CARIBBEAN 360 – International health experts will be in Jamaica this week to help authorities fight a bacterial infection that has killed 18 premature babies at two hospitals in the last four months.
In the meantime, local health officials are stepping up infection control and sanitation in healthcare facilities across the island.
That’s according to Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson who disclosed yesterday that since June this year a total of 42 newborns – some of them born prematurely – at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) and the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) had the infections caused by the Klebsiella and Serratia bacteria.
Of the infected babies at CRH, 73 per cent of those who were of the gestational age of seven months or older survived. At the UHWI, all babies who were older than seven months of the gestational age survived.
But the health minister said he was not informed about the outbreaks until last Friday, at which time he summoned health officials and began taking steps to address the matter. The origin of the bacteria is still uncertain.
But speaking at a press conference yesterday, national epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health Dr. Karen Webster-Kerr suggested an unsanitary environment was responsible for the babies being infected. At the same time, she stressed that personnel who came into contact with the newborns were quarantined and it was determined they were not responsible for spreading the bacterial infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Klebsiella bacteria can be spread in healthcare through person-to-person contact (for example, from patient to patient via the contaminated hands of healthcare personnel, or other persons) or, less commonly, by contamination of the environment, but not through the air. Patients in healthcare settings also may be exposed to Klebsiella when they are on ventilators (breathing machines), or have intravenous (vein) catheters or wounds (caused by injury or surgery).
The bacteria can cause different types of healthcare-associated infections, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis.
Serratia bacteria is similar to Klebsiella bacteria.
The ministry said it will be strengthening infection prevention and control measures, although stressing that there are already standard protocols and procedures in place specific to maternity, operating theatre, neonatal units, intensive care and accident and emergency to guide these practices.
Dr. Webster-Kerr said the infection prevention and control measures include: increased monitoring of hand washing practices; re-education and training of hospital staff; orientation and training for parents; increased cleaning frequency of special care nursery; patient/staff/parent movements restricted, as well as the restriction of items allowed in the nursery.
Meantime, Dr. Ferguson said his ministry has engaged a medical microbiologist who will be visiting and working with facilities, and there will be routine audits to ensure best practices.
“The microbiologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies has also been conducting training sessions with the teams. Foot operated hand washing stations are being installed in several hospitals as part of measures to improve infection control,” he said.
The minister disclosed that a team from the Pan American Health Organization, including an adviser on infection prevention and control, is scheduled to arrive in the island today, and the Caribbean Public Health Agency is on standby to give any assistance that may be required.
He also expressed support for the affected families and said counselling would be provided if they wanted it.