Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Experts use gas to kill deadly bug

Technology in action that scientists believe is a new way to destroy a bacterium which killed four babies in hospitals in Northern Ireland (Queen's University/PA)
Technology in action that scientists believe is a new way to destroy a bacterium which killed four babies in hospitals in Northern Ireland (Queen's University/PA)

Scientists have invented a new way to destroy a bacterium which killed four babies in hospitals in Northern Ireland.

Three infants died from pseudomonas in January while another succumbed in December in Belfast and Londonderry.

Academics from Queen's University Belfast (QUB) believe they have made a significant breakthrough which could be in hospitals within a year. The technique uses gas to reach niche areas like taps which were blamed for the outbreak.

High levels of bacteria have also been uncovered at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Professor Bill Graham, director of QUB's Centre for Plasma Physics, said: "We think it could be quickly quite useful for these difficult environments, particularly within biofilms. The excitement for us was finding that it really could get in there and clear the bacteria."

Pseudomonas is a relatively common hospital infection which does not usually cause illness in healthy people but can threaten the most vulnerable hospital patients, most commonly in intensive care, those with depleted immune systems such as cancer patients, people with severe burns and premature babies in neonatal units.

Thousands of cases are reported across the UK every year. It lives on the skin but can spread through medical equipment such as catheters and feeding tubes inserted into the body.

Sink taps were the source of an infection which killed three babies at a neo-natal unit at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland's health minister Edwin Poots confirmed.

Prof Graham said they had passed an electric current through the gas to make it more effective.

He added: "The technique we've used, known as a cold plasma jet, creates a number of agents which rapidly kill bacteria, even within mature biofilms. Not only does it attack the bacteria but this synergistic approach attacks the biofilm structure killing the bacteria deep within."

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