The four patients at the Life Glynwood private hospital in Benoni, east of Johannesburg, who were reported to have died from superbug New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) in fact, succumbed to other complications, according to a spokesperson for the Life hospital group, Marietjie Shelly.
Professor Adriano Duse of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed this, saying the patients had died from other serious illnesses and the bug was just a contributing factor to their deaths. He added that the fourth person who died this week actually died from entirely unrelated complications.
By the middle of October, of the several hundred patients who had been screened at the hospital, ten people had been found to be infected with the bacterial strain.
Patients infected with the NDM-1 bacteria strain were kept in isolated facilities at Glynwood hospital and some were discharged after a full recovery.
NDM-1 is resistant to nearly all antibiotics, including carbapenem antibiotics — also known as antibiotics of last resort.
In South Africa, the bug has not been confined to the Glynwood hospital. In September a carrier of the NDM-1 bacteria was discovered at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg.
But Duse urged people not to panic saying only ill people with compromised immune systems would get sick.
The bacteria can live inside a person without causing illness, he said. Only if the bacteria move from the gut into the bloodstream or organs can it cause serious problems, said Duse.
If the bacteria infected a person’s blood it could lead to septicaemia or blood poisoning — and if it infected the lungs, the person could develop pneumonia.
More studies were needed to see how many people were carrying the bug and how prevalent it is outside hospitals, said Duse. He said medical experts had no idea how many people were carriers but didn’t think it was a large percentage of the population.
Hospitals with the resources available could screen people to see if they were carrying the bug and then place them in isolation, rather than keeping them in close confinement with other patients.
But he said most hospitals did not have the facilities to screen all of their patients before admitting them to high care or intensive care.
Outbreaks of other more serious diseases that have left South Africans concerned were swine flu and bird flu.
Just over 90 people died of swine flu in 2009 out of more than 12 000 reported cases. The disease was fatal in people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women and the very young.
But to put deaths from strange diseases in perspective, 40 people on average die a day in crashes on South Africa’s roads, according to Gary Ronald, head of public affairs at the Automobile Association.
Ronald also told the Mail & Guardian that according to the World Health Organisation by 2020, more people in developing countries would die from traffic accidents than malaria and HIV combined.