Two aminoglycoside-resistant strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae caused an outbreak on the neonatal unit at St Thomas' Hospital. One, which affected 18 patients, was capsular type K18 and resistant to newer cephalosporins by the production of the extended-spectrum beta-lactamase SHV-2; the other, which colonized four patients, was capsular non-typeable and did not produce extended-spectrum beta-lactamase. Both strains were probably brought into the unit by carrier patients; the probable carrier of the non-typeable strain was transferred from another hospital but was negative on a single admission screen; the probable carrier of the K18 strain was not screened on admission because he had been born at St Thomas', but his mother had been transferred from another hospital. Despite intensive efforts to control the outbreak by standard methods of hand washing, screening, patient isolation and environmental cleaning, a total of 22 neonates on the unit eventually became colonized or infected. One of three patients with bacteraemia died. A small proportion of samples of expressed breast milk, electronic thermometers and oxygen saturation probes were contaminated by the K18 strain and may have contributed to some of the cross-infection, but this did not explain the extent of the outbreak. The outbreak was controlled only by opening a temporary ward for colonized neonates and another for newly born babies, which allowed the closure and cleaning of the main neonatal unit. Multiply antibiotic resistant klebsiellas may be highly epidemic and cause serious, difficult-to-control outbreaks on neonatal units. All patients, regardless of their admission history, should be screened on admission for carriage of multiply resistant enterobacteria by a sensitive method, and units should have plans for temporary ward closure should outbreaks occur.
Copyright 2001 The Hospital Infection Society.