Hospital Patients Die After Contracting Pigeon Droppings Infection
20 January 2019, 06:18 | Updated: 20 January 2019, 06:21
Two patients have died after contracting a fungal infection linked to pigeon droppings at a hospital.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC) has launched a probe into the death of one patient at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, with the cause still to be determined.
The health board said the second patient affected - who was elderly - died of an unrelated matter.
Control measures were immediately put in place after the two cases of Cryptococcus were detected.
A spokesman said: "Our thoughts are with the families at this distressing time.
"Due to patient confidentiality we cannot share further details of the two cases.
"The organism is harmless to the vast majority of people and rarely causes disease in humans."
The infection is caused by inhaling the fungus Cryptococcus, primarily found in soil and pigeon droppings.
NHSGCC said a likely source was found in a non-public area away from wards and the droppings were removed.
The health board said a small number of child and adult patients who are vulnerable to the infection are receiving medication and this has proved effective.
Teresa Inkster, NHSGCC lead consultant for infection control, said: "Cryptococcus lives in the environment throughout the world. It rarely causes infection in humans.
"People can become infected with it after breathing in the microscopic fungi, although most people who are exposed to it never get sick from it.
"There have been no further cases since the control measures were put in place.
"In the meantime we are continuing to monitor the air quality and these results are being analysed.
"It remains our priority to ensure a safe environment for patients and staff."
As an extra precaution the health board has installed portable HEPA filter units in specific areas, which filter the air continuously.
NHSGCC said that during the course of investigations, a separate issue arose with the sealant in some of the shower rooms.
Repairs are under way and the maintenance team is working to fix the issue as quickly as possible with minimum disruption, it said.
The health board added that as a further precaution, a specific group of patients are being moved within the hospital due to their clinical diagnosis and ongoing treatment.
Scottish Labour's shadow health secretary Monica Lennon said: "This is tragic news and our thoughts are with the families and friends of the two people who have died.
"Patients and the wider public need to be reassured as a matter of urgency that this unit is safe.
"The Scottish Government and health board must ensure an appropriate investigation proceeds at pace and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman must update parliament at the earliest opportunity."
Scottish Conservative Glasgow MSP Annie Wells said: "This is an alarming revelation, and one which will be causing concern among staff, patients and families.
"It's vital this situation is brought under control immediately before it escalates.
"An urgent investigation is required to get the answers families will be demanding."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Our primary concern, and that of the health board, remains the safety and wellbeing of the patients and their families at the hospital.
"There is an ongoing review of two isolated cases of an unusual fungal infection within the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital site, which were detected in December 2018.
"Control measures are in place, including the installation of portable HEPA filters in the ward and adjoining areas. There have been no further cases reported."