Jul 022007

Superbugs entrenched in Aust hospitals
Staphylococcus and other related so-called super-bugs are easy to beat, yet Australia’s hospital system doesn’t seem to place a lot of priority on the battle.

I can relate personally to the problem of MRSA infections running rife in at least one Queensland hospital. In March 2005, my father died as a direct result of a virulent staph infection, following aortic valve replacement surgery.
He’d been admitted to the Greenslopes Private Hospital, in the older section of the hospital where Department of Veterans Affairs patients undergo medical procedures. Not that the age of the particular building should have anything to do with the disease which killed him, but clearly, cleanliness procedures were lacking. I recall at least one occasion during a visit as the attending surgeon was doing rounds. He waltzed in without washing his hands in the antiseptic solution provided, nor did he don a disposable gown. Hands weren’t washed from one room to another and gloves were absent. For the medical staff, that is. Visitors, family and the like were required to wear disposable gowns, and wash their hands in antiseptic solutions upon entering the room, and leaving it. Contact between visitors and patients was discouraged, yet medical staff, nurses, doctors and rehabilitation specialists seemed to flit from room to room with little or no regard to the cleanliness requirements for visitors. Staphylococcus aureus has no respect for a person’s station or profession.
Dad was 82 years of age, and entered hospital reasonably fit, suffering a little from emphysema which, although he’d not smoked for some thirty years, was bound to catch up with him eventually. His major health risk was a calcified aortic valve. The operation went well, but within days of the surgery his health deteriorated. The diagnosis was golden staph. Because heart surgery required that his diet be strictly controlled during the post-operative phase, he was unable to rebuild his body’s defences quickly enough to combat the bacterial infection. Anti-biotics prescribed only succeeded in stripping away any beneficial gut bacterium leaving him even more exposed to the bug. Increased doses of anti-biotics eventually resulted in a collapse of kidney function which spelt out the end. It took three months, but at the end, my once vital father was reduced to a barely coherent shell of a human being simply waiting to die. He wasn’t the only patient to have contracted a staph infection during the period December 2004 to March 2005. There were quite a few. Fortunately for the others, they didn’t die. I cannot help but believe that had the hospital adhered to, and enforced the same stringent cleanliness regime applicable to visitors to the hospital upon their own staff and medicos, my dad might still be alive today, enjoying the benefits of his surgery.
Yes, I’m biased. Strongly so. I’ve always hated hospitals and regarded them not as pristine places of hygiene and health, but nests of germs. Places of death. As a teenager I had my appendix removed at the old Princess Alexandra hospital in Brisbane. I was only in three days or so, but distinctly recall see six-wheelers darting in and out under closed lift-well doors while I was walking (hobbling) past. Roaches in a hospital? Why not? Golden Staph is fifty times more deadly than the odd cocky. People shriek at the sight of the six-legged vermin, yet when it comes to washing hands it’s just all too much hard work. A cockroach never killed anyone but MRSA’s kill hundreds annually. Is it because we can’t see the germs that we ignore them? I believe so. Out of sight, out of mind.
Being responsible for a person’s death while in charge of a motor vehicle can attract a charge of manslaughter, at the least. Being in charge of a hospital ward where people die as a direct result of failure to enforce strict hygiene procedures get’s you a collective shug of the shoulders and a “C’est la vie”.

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