Gauteng baby deaths: Deadly disease ‘not limited’ to Tembisa Hospital

Politicians are worried that unsanitary conditions in hospitals across Gauteng could see another Klebsiella outbreak claim more lives.

A fatal outbreak of CRE – which causes pneumonia and meningitis in patients – has been reported at Tembisa Hospital on Monday 20 January. A total of 10 babies contracted the Klebsiella disease over a two-month period, and local politicians now fear that “poor hygiene standards” in Gauteng hospitals could make the situation worse.

CRE: Areas of concern for Gauteng

Jack Bloom is the shadow health MEC in the province. He expressed his horror over the deadly outbreak, but was also quick to refer to another case of Klebsiella from a Gauteng hospital in 2018. Bloom shared his concern that “overcrowding and a lack of cleanliness” may lead to a further spread of the disease.

“I am horrified at the deaths of 10 babies at the Tembisa Hospital due to a suspected Klebsiella outbreak. The facility is notoriously overcrowded, and the 44-bed neonatal unit often admits more than double that number of babies. We need to know why the public were not informed earlier and what accountability there will be for these deaths.

“Overcrowding and poor hygiene measures are a major problem in neonatal units in Gauteng hospitals. How many more babies will die before effective measures are taken at all hospitals? It is no use waking up after the tragedy when babies have already died.”

Jack Bloom

The latest figures we have on the Klebsiella outbreak:

  • There were 17 Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) cases – leading to Klebsiella – which resulted in the deaths between 1 November and 31 December 2019. Ten of them were babies.
  • In 2018, six babies from Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in the south-east of Johannesburg died from Klebsiella.
  • Those most likely to be affected are female, and patients who have been on a drip or those using breathing apparatus during a stay in hospital become more vulnerable to the disease.

What is Klebsiella?

Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) is the name given to the bacteria which can resist the effects of antibiotics. This disease is able to produce enzymes which successfully disable the drug itself. It’s believed that half of all patients who contract CRE in the form of Klebsiella, die as a result.

The bacteria tends to thrive in care facilities. If medical equipment isn’t cleaned properly, it can be a breeding ground for CRE. The infection is viral and it can be passed from person to person. In a place like Tembisa Hospital, the disease doesn’t have far to travel before it claims a victim.