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Hospital building is the focus of investigation into cryptococcal deaths

A cryptococcal infection linked to pigeon droppings has now been confirmed as a contributing factor in the death of a child in December at Scotland’s flagship hospital, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.


Cryptococcus was also identified in a second patient who was discharged from the hospital in November for palliative care and subsequently died in December, but the infection is said not to have been a contributing factor in that death. 


The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman has visited the hospital and has been reassured that patient safety is the board’s top priority. She has also agreed that an external advisor will work with the hospital on a review of the fabric of the building, including the design, commissioning and maintenance programme. 


The BBC reports that Ms Freeman told the Scottish parliament: “There are two strands to this. The first is to deal with the current infection, which the board has done thoroughly. They’ve taken all the measures they should take.


“The other is the building itself. We need to be absolutely sure about the current state of this infrastructure – what do we need to fix, how has that arisen and what are the lessons for our build elsewhere in the health service.


“That may be in aspects of the design that we weren’t aware of at the time, it might be in aspects of the commissioning, it might be maintenance, or maybe a combination of all of those.”


It is thought that the source of the infection is a room housing machinery that is not open to the public. 


Dee Ward-Thompson is Technical Manager of the British Pest Control Association (BPCA). Although she is unable to comment on this particular case, Dee told HEFMA: “Bird guano can be very dangerous. Ornithosis, Listeria, E-coli and other nasty pathogens can be passed through droppings and by the birds themselves. When dry, the droppings can become airborne leading to respiratory complaints such as psittacosis, and the cryptococcus fungus.  


“To protect visitors and staff facilities should not overlook bird control as part of an effective onsite pest management programme. All UK bird species are protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) including their nests and eggs, so you should always contact a trusted pest management company to be protected professionally. If staff are tasked with clearing up bird guano themselves, please make sure the correct personal protective equipment, and appropriate levels of training has been given. This is a hazardous task and we highly recommend using a professional pest management company.”


BPCA can provide guidance on how to find a professional pest management company and training that is available for effective bird management. 


The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital has put infection control measures in place and is using portable HEPA air filter units as an additional precaution. 


It has also been confirmed that a separate issue involving two patients who have tested positive with another fungal organism is also under investigation at the hospital.