20 Nov 2013

Superbug couldn't be cured by any antibiotic

11:06 am on 20 November 2013

A man has died in Wellington carrying a superbug that could not be cured by any antibiotic - possibly the first time this has happened to a New Zealander.

Brian Pool's death was from other health problems not linked to the bug, but the case has prompted health experts to again warn that the global overuse of antibiotics is fuelling the rise of such drug-resistant superbugs.

The 68-year-old former Wellington teacher had lived in Vietnam and had surgery there after a brain haemorrhage. He died at a rest home in July this year from complications of a stroke.

Mr Pool had an antibiotic-resistant form of the bacterium Klebseilla pneumoniae and was in isolation in Wellington and Kenepuru hospitals, and later at a resthome in Paraparaumu.

His twin sister Maureen Dunn said her brother returned to New Zealand in late January following the stroke. He had also lived in India where underwent a hernia operation.

Ms Dunn said no one knows where he may have got the bug, which had colonised his body extensively, but had not infected it.

She said there were no restrictions on family members visiting Mr Pool while he was in isolation and they raised the topic of the superbug to coincide with antibiotic awareness week.

Wellington clinical microbiologist Mark Jones treated Brian Pool and told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Tuesday that the bug was the most resistant thing he has ever seen and warned that the end of the antibiotic era is looming.

Dr Jones said strict isolation protocols were essential when treating Mr Pool because if it had spread, the impact would have been devastating.

Sally Roberts, a clinical leader of microbiology at Auckland Hospital, says superbugs are common in some developing countries and can be easily transferred in a hospital.

She said New Zealanders who consider having surgery overseas need to be aware of these risks.

"Not only do they get their surgery done cheaply, but they may acquire these sorts of organisms at the same time. If you're being really smart about it, you'd want to say to that hospital, 'Tell me what your multiple antibiotic-resistant organism rates are before I come into your hospital'".

Hospitals in New Zealand are doing all they can to screen for the bugs, she said.