A single DNA sample from a cigarette has identified 69 members of staff at a south-east Spanish hospital as “likely” to have been exposed to the superbug MRSA after a Christmas party.
An expert opinion from an antimicrobial expert confirmed an earlier finding by the state prosecutor, who ruled that the risk of transmission of the highly lethal bug to patients from Dr Marat Fental, the paediatrician and laboratory director at Comerções Infantiles de México (CIM), was “extremely low”.
The official risk assessments have been handed to the health and social services minister, Pedro Martínez-Gibson, who will conduct a search of the premises on Monday and is expected to take samples of some of the staff who attended the party.
The case is the latest blow to healthcare professionals in Spain after mass flu vaccinations and antibiotics prescriptions were linked to the deaths of patients at two hospitals, located in Alicante and Zaragoza.
On the anniversary of those deaths, an Italian doctor, Enzo Bianco, stepped forward to say that she had found extensive evidence of systemic infection control failures at the hospitals.
He was one of a number of non-Spanish speakers who had joined hospital authorities to investigate the outbreak that started with 34 paediatric patients being admitted to Zaragoza General hospital in the fourth week of December.
The deaths occurred weeks after Biercelli had been hired by the local health authority. She made the grisly discovery that a group of 75 paediatric patients had fallen ill, but were only 25 patients in total. Sixteen of them died.
The best system of protecting children was to be common in all healthcare facilities, Bianco said.
The Spanish attorney general, María José Mari López, was inundated with 70 requests from health organisations after she said that the risk of contagion from the superbug was “extremely low”.
Five adolescents aged 16 and 17 died in the two hospitals, and 30 of those infected continued to be treated. The public prosecutor had ruled that it was most likely that the patients died because of failing care, and recommended that the hospital be put under special administrative measures, known as Article 120, so that any problems could be fixed.
In a statement on Saturday, the health secretary – who said a serious outbreak had been avoided – rejected the line that all patients should be a priority, and told the judge acting on her behalf to be impartial.
Since 2011, there has been a shortage of staff at the Comerções Infantiles de México, a specialist centre for treating babies born with birth defects, but there has been no formal report blaming the infection on the party.
A statement issued by the hospital said a panel was to investigate the origin of the infections.
The Hospital Employees union said in a statement that the majority of the staff had already decided to end their services, while admitting the risk of infection to the entire hospital was “serious”. It had not yet been decided what to do with the health and social services minister on Monday.