Wet wipes are the prime suspect in an unusual disease outbreak sweeping across hospitals in Norway.
At least 239 people in 33 hospitals across Norway have fallen sick after being infected with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).
The outbreak was first reported in November 2020 at a hospital in Tromsø. After several months of uncertainty, the strain of bacteria responsible for the outbreak was found inside a packet of pre-moistened disposable washcloths made by the UK-based company Vernacare. In an announcement this week, the NIPH said the strain has been found in another eight disposable cloths from the same batch, strengthening suspicions that the wet wipes are the culprit.
The wipes, which have been taken out of circulation by the NIPH, are used in hospitals to give bed baths to critically ill patients that are too sick or weak to wash by themselves.
“The health trusts have participated in an extensive outbreak investigation where, among other things, mapping of infected patients and examination of products and equipment they have been in contact with, has been a priority,” Kirsten Gravningen, chief physician at the National Institute of Public Health, said in a press release.
“Now it will be important to find the extent of contamination in the suspected product,” added Gravningen
P. aeruginosa is typically harmless for healthy people, but can cause serious infection in patients with weakened immune systems. Symptoms of the potentially fatal disease depend on which part of the body is infected, but it can result in everything from fevers and headaches to skin rashes.
The bacteria can be found in many natural environments, like damp soil and water, but it’s often found in hospitals and nursing homes because of its ability to infect immunocompromised patients. Oddly enough, the bacteria possess the ability to break down crude oil, which means it could be a useful tool to clean up oil spills.
Like other hospital-acquired infections, there is also the problem of the bacteria gaining resistance to antibiotics. Due to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics, doctors around the world are finding P. aeruginosa infections increasingly tough to treat because of antibiotic resistance. In fact, the World Health Organization lists multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa as one of the 12 highest risk "priority pathogens" to keep an eye on.
According to statistics from the CDC, in 2017, multidrug-resistant P. aeruginosa caused an estimated 32,600 infections among hospitalized patients and around 2,700 deaths in the US.