Two dead after pigeon dropping infection hits showpiece QE2 hospital
By Democrat reporter
BBC Scotland is reporting that two patients have died after contracting a fungal infection caused by pigeon droppings at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said an elderly patient also died but from an unrelated cause. Another infected patient has also died but the factors contributing to the death are still being investigated.
A non-public room, thought to contain machinery, was identified as a likely source. An investigation is under way.
A Health Board spokesperson 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.”
Feeding pigeons can be a dangerous, dirty business and in some places it has been made illegal under litter legislation.
NHSGGC confirmed a small number of vulnerable paediatric and adult patients are receiving medication to protect them against the airborne infection, which is a Cryptococcus species. Portable HEPA air filter units have been installed in specific areas as an additional precaution.
Earlier on Saturday Teresa Inkster, 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.”
Ms Inkster said experts are continuing to monitor the air quality. She added: “It remains our priority to ensure a safe environment for patients and staff.”
Professor Hugh Pennington, of Aberdeen University, said he was surprised to learn of the infection. The epidemiologist said: “It is very unusual in the UK. It is quite common in other parts of the world, particularly in tropical parts and in the US and in countries like that, where they have more problems with this particular kind of fungus.”
Professor Pennington said people with weak immune systems are most at risk. He added: “When it gets into the blood stream a lot of people have fairly straightforward infections and it settles in the lungs but the big problem with this is that it can cause meningitis and, as we know, meningitis can be a very serious infection.”
Pigeons gathering on the roofs of houses in the Riverside Estate near Bonhill Bridge, where the birds roost. Residents have been complaining to the Council’s environmental health department for years to find a solution for this. Pictures by Bill Heaney
Professor Pennington said anti-fungal drugs are used to treat the infection but warned it can be fatal if it is not diagnosed.
The expert said a key priority would have been stopping the airborne infection from entering the hospital’s ventilation system.
He added: “Obviously they have stopped the pigeons getting into the machine room. It surprises me slightly that there was any there in the first place.”
During the investigation, a separate issue arose with the sealant in some of the shower rooms. NHSGGC said repairs are underway and our maintenance team are working to remedy this issue as quickly as possible with the minimum disruption.
As a further precaution, a specific group of patients are being moved within the hospital due to their clinical diagnosis and ongoing treatment.
The £842m QEUH, pictured right, opened in April 2015 and featured in the BBC series Scotland’s Superhospital.
The places where there is the greatest risk of being hit by pigeon droppings in West Dunbartonshire is under or near railway bridges, where the birds nest and pigeon droppings build up.
Work costing £1.3 million is currently going on at Dumbarton Central Station railway bride and at smaller bridges in the Station Road area to clean up and refurbish these bridges.
One of the worst places is at Bonhill Bridge over the River Leven in Alexandria where residents have been complaining for years about pigeons roosting on the roofs of their homes in the Riverside Estate.
There have been complaints also about people feeding pigeons on Dumbarton Quay and regular appeals have been made to persuade them to stop.