MORE than 40 people have died at two hospitals over the last three years after contracting a killer superbug.
Health chiefs have revealed that 44 patients died at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton and the University Hospital of Hartlepool after contracting clostridium difficile (C.diff).
Each fatality must be reported to NHS bosses and a log of incidents shows there were 15 deaths at Hartlepool and 29 at North Tees between April 2008 to April 2011.
But trust chiefs say the number of cases has fallen dramatically and not all of the cases were contracted on NHS premises as it is a community-based infection.
There are also cases where C.diff was listed as a contributory cause of death, rather than the primary reason.
Sue Smith, director of nursing, patient safety and quality at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said staff have been working hard to make sure the number of outbreaks of the bug fall every year.
Ms Smith said C.diff is a particularly unpleasant illness which causes diarrhoea and vomiting,
She added: “People who are otherwise fit and well can deal with and recover from a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. But the problems arise with people whose immune systems are compromised because they are unwell or have other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart or chest disease.
“The infection is present in the community and in hospitals, but because in hospital we have many people together who are also unwell, it is a constant challenge to prevent its spread.”
The number of deaths has fallen from 18 across the two sites in 2008/2009, to 16 the following year, and 10 in the year ending in March 2011.
Ms Smith said: “Each case is a tragedy for a family and we take each and every one extremely seriously.
“We look in detail to see if there is anything we could have done to prevent it and what we can learn to ensure as far as humanly possible that these things don’t happen again.
“We have seen a dramatic fall in the numbers of patients being affected by all infections including C.diff and there are many factors involved in this decrease.”
She said washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water is the best way of preventing infections spreading and the trust’s bare-below-the-elbows policy for staff ensures they can wash their hands properly and thoroughly.
C.diff produces spores which fall onto floors and other surfaces and bosses use hydrogen peroxide vapour fogging to clean rooms where they have had patients with the infection and they have a programme of decanting whole wards so they can empty and clean them thoroughly on a regular basis.
Certain antibiotics can make people more susceptible to C.diff so there are policies developed by doctors to limit the types of antibiotics prescribed.