New unit will track and study hospital-based infections

31 May 2010

Hospital-based infections took centre stage at the launch of the new Unit for Molecular Epidemiology in UCT's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IIDMM) on Africa Day, 25 May.

The unit, which will focus on outbreaks of hospital-based infections, is a collaboration between UCT and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) in the US.

Speaking at the a mini symposium preceding the launch, Professors Mark Nicol, of the Division of Medical Microbiology, and Anna-Lise Williamson, of the Division of Medical Virology, said investigations of outbreaks of hospital-based infections would focus on the coastal regions of South Africa.

In collaboration with the NICD, the unit will work to improve understanding of the local epidemiology of multi-resistant bacterial pathogens. As part of a national collaborative network the unit will also identify and track emerging pathogens in the coastal region and manage the activities of the World Health Organisation's human papilloma virus (HPV) Labnet laboratory for the Africa region.

"We are very excited to have the first NICD unit outside of Johannesburg," said Williamson. "The unit will create a better understanding of the molecular epidemiology of infectious disease in the Eastern and Western Cape.

"Hospital-based infections are a problem worldwide, and they need to be monitored in all hospitals to ensure that infection control is being implemented effectively. We will initially start with infections in our region, and once the unit is operating successfully we will continue expanding the studies to other regions."

At the symposium, Dr Diana Hardie of the Division of Clinical Virology shared her experiences of hospital-based infections in her presentation, Lessons Learnt from a Respiratory Virus Season.

Other speakers included Melissa Jansen van Rensburg, who spoke on the transmission of methicillin-resistant S. aureus in Cape Town hospitals, Zizipho Mbulawa, who discussed the impact of HIV on the transmission of the human papilloma virus in heterosexual couples, and Dr Andrew Whitelaw, whose topic was Multi-resistant Organisms at Red Cross Hospital: Death by admission.

Proving that the simplest solution is often the best, Whitelaw said good hand hygiene is paramount in hospitals. Medical staff tend to clean their hands after touching a patient and not before, which could result in infections and viruses spreading.

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