07/03/2014 07:48 GMT | Updated 07/03/2014 07:59 GMT

'Drug-Resistant Superbug' Kills 16 People In Manchester

In Manchester, a dangerous ‘superbug’ has killed sixteen people in the past four years.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Klebsiella Pneumoniae Carbapenemase (KPC) bacilli (bacteria), which are drug-resistant, have been responsible for hundreds of infections, and many fatalities.

Between 2009 and 2013 Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust area handled 1,241 patients who were affected by KPC. Since then, figures are on the rise.

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Klebsiella pneumoniae KPC-2 growing in an agar plate in a science lab

KPC is so dangerous because it is resistant to carbapenems - a group of antibiotics that, in many cases, are regarded as the "last effective defence" against multi-resistant bacterial infections. This means that when patients suffer from KPC blood poisoning in conjunction with other serious illnesses such as diabetes, kidney problems, transplant rejection, leukaemia or other forms of cancer, the illness can pose a serious threat to their life.

Some 62 patients have suffered blood poisoning - with 14 confirmed deaths within 30 days of infection - at the trust. Two other deaths have also been confirmed in the current year.

The Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the enzyme which KPC uses to render antibiotics ineffective had now entered other bacteria, including E-coli and enterobacter.

The trust said: "This trust has and continues to make strenuous efforts to control and reduce this infection. We continue to work very closely with Public Health England at both a local and national level to develop solutions for the long-term management of patients."

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, a specialist cancer hospital, said nine patients had been colonised with KPC last year.

Two cases of KPC have also been found at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, with one patient dying in the past two years.

Its microbiologist, Dr Mike Cooper, told the BBC the patient was 96 and her form of KPC was still susceptible to some drugs.

"There's a huge element of luck in this," he said. "Either Manchester has been extremely unlucky or we have been extremely lucky not to have more cases."

Some 10 patients have also been colonised at the University Hospital of Stoke-on-Trent. Two had urinary tract infections, but neither patient died of blood poisoning.

Stoke's microbiologist, Jeorge Orendi, said: "Unlike the situation in certain hospitals in Manchester and London, fortunately in our hospital and catchment area, carbapenemase producers have remained rare to date."

Professor Neil Woodford, head of the PHE antimicrobial resistance and healthcare associated infections reference unit, said: "KPC is one of a number of enzymes, known as carbapenemases, which can make a bacteria resistant to carbapenem antibiotics.

"Other types of carbapenemase include NDM, OXA-48, and VIM enzymes, and a number of others. Bacteria with these resistance mechanisms have been found in the UK and around the world in many different types of bacteria, but especially in gut bacteria such as Klebsiella, E.coli and enterobacter.

"Gut bacteria that produce KPC or other carbapenemase enzymes are known as carbapenamase-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE).

"Public Health England works with NHS colleagues to identify bacteria that have these resistance mechanisms. The new PHE tool kit provides guidance to control the spread of bacteria that produce carbapenemases and are resistant to carbapenem antibiotics."