A chief executive in the Health Service Executive (HSE) has issued a strict warning about a killer superbug which has hospitalised 19 people in Ireland this week.
Healthcare Professor Martin Cormican told Morning Ireland that more than half of all patients who develop the infection in their blood stream will die as a result.
The bacteria is proving very tricky to kill off with antibiotics and is spreading throughout patients in hospitals in particular.
Cormican said that CPE is the “worst superbug we’ve ever seen” after 400 people have already been diagnosed here so far this year.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, he said: "There will be empty chairs at Christmas tables this year related to antibiotic resistance in Ireland and right across Europe.
"CPE is the latest wave in a series of antibiotic-resistance bugs that have hit the world in the last 40 years.
"CPE is the worst one that we’ve ever come across because the antibiotic choices that we have left to treat it with are in many cases very limited. So it’s the worst superbug that we’ve seen to date.”
"Most people who get it don’t even know that they have it. That actually makes it more difficult because you can’t see it spreading unless you’re looking for it very carefully.
"So, most people who get it – it stays in the gut and as long as it stays in the gut, it doesn’t cause you any trouble.
"The problem is that when people become very vulnerable to infection, it may get out of the gut, into the bloodstream and then we have very few antibiotics left to treat some of those very serious infections.”
"We do see some spread in other settings but for the moment it’s mainly a hospital spread and so we have to change the way we work our hospitals in Ireland and right across Europe to make it harder for these bugs to spread.
"The people who are most at risk of this are those people who are already vulnerable – who are on complicated treatments, needing a lot of healthcare, and for them if they get CPE, some of these, if it crosses into the bloodstream then it becomes very serious.
"My assessment is that this is a race against time – in the sense that once CPE becomes very widespread, you can’t go back.
"And we’ve seen this happen before with the other waves of antibiotic-resistant bugs – the MRSA and so on – once it gets a hold, you can never go back.
"So there is an element of race against time and we need to move faster and the extent of the transformation of how we do our business that we need to do – not just in the HSE but in the entire healthcare sector – private and public – is much deeper than I think most people have fully grasped yet."
You can listen to his full interview with Brian Dobson here.
it starts at the 48:00 minute mark.