Experts call for urgent action over new superbug threat

24 January 2019

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have warned that Scottish hospitals are at risk of a new potentially deadly superbug outbreak unless attitudes towards vital screening change.

At the moment rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria Carbapenemase Producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) in Scotland is relatively low compared to other parts of Europe, USA, India and Africa.

However, experts have discovered a disturbing lack of education and awareness among health professionals and the public about the threat of CPE, sparking calls for urgent action.

Researchers in the GCU Safeguarding Health through Infection Prevention (SHIP) research group have carried out the first study of its kind into the acceptability and perceptions of CPE screening.

In a nationwide survey, 450 nursing staff from all Scottish health board areas and 261 members of the public were asked a series of questions to find out what they knew about CPE and the acceptability of rectal swabs, which is the best way to detect the bacteria.

More than 30 per cent of nurses surveyed were unaware of the emerging risk of CPE and the same number thought that taking rectal swabs from patients was unacceptable.

Almost 70 per cent of nurses quizzed in the survey thought the public would be embarrassed by a rectal swab and around 74 per cent said they would ask patients to do the test themselves despite the fact this method may be unreliable.

Half of nurses who responded said they had not been informed about their hospital’s policy and procedures for CPE screening and less than 50 per cent felt the consequences of CPE to their patients were so severe that screening was a priority.

When the public were asked about CPE, more than 80 per cent said they knew about the growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria but only 23 per cent had heard of CPE.

Figures also showed that only two people had been screened for CPE, but contrary to nurses’ perceptions, the majority of the general public strongly agreed that providing a rectal swab was acceptable.

The important findings have triggered calls for heightened awareness of CPE and screening for nurses and the general public.

As a result of the research, NHS Education for Scotland is developing new online educational resources for nurses to help them understand that the public are not as embarrassed by the rectal swab test as they think.

Lead study author Professor Kay Currie, GCU School of Health and Life Sciences Associate Dean Research, said: “This is very important research because it will be used to educate nurses and raise awareness among the general public, which will increase uptake of screening and help prevent an outbreak of this very dangerous resistant bacteria in the UK.

“CPE is a growing threat to our healthcare system and we really want to try to stop it becoming endemic in our hospitals because it’s extremely difficult to treat and get rid of once it takes hold.”

The World Health Organisation has identified CPE as a growing challenge in the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections with predictions of worldwide epidemics in the USA, India and Greece. International guidelines recommend rectal screening of all patients deemed at risk of carrying CPE.