The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bug scare shuts OTs
- Fumigation scurry at Medical College after wall swab shows tetanus bacteria

OTs closed: Six

Depts affected: urology, gastro-enterology, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic, general surgery, cardio-thoracic (at SSKM)

Patients turned away: 125 (approx)

No. of hospitals where fumigation has been ordered: Seven in city

Fear of infection has forced the health authorities to shut down four operating theatres (OTs) at Medical College and Hospital after the discovery of potentially-hazardous bacteria.

Routine swab tests revealed spore-bearing bacteria ' clostridium titany, that causes tetanus ' on the floor and walls of the OTs earlier this week. Four Medical College and Hospital OTs have been closed so far, and fumigation has been ordered at seven state-run centres in Calcutta.

'Fumigation of OTs is not uncommon,' stressed Prabhakar Chatterjee, director, health services.

'But this situation is different, because of the scale of the problem. If we do not ensure the OTs are bug-free, patients will run the risk of exposure to infection,' he added.

Around 200 surgeries scheduled for this week by the urology, gastro-enterology, plastic surgery, neurosurgery and orthopaedic departments at Medical College and Hospital have been put on hold.

'We are conducting emergency surgeries in other departments. There was no alternative to closing down the facilities,' said Rabindranath Chatterjee, superintendent, Medical College and Hospital.

'We have to wait for a report from the microbiology department, which is looking into the infection scare,' he explained. Once the reports are in and clearance on conditions is received, the hospital will decide when to reopen the OTs.

Chatterjee dismissed allegations of patient infection caused by the bacteria, but doctors and nurses of Medical College and Hospital felt that a few post-surgical infections at the hospital could have been caused by the tetanus bacteria.

'One can never definitively pinpoint the source, but a large number of patients could be at risk, so we have to take adequate precautions,' said a visiting doctor.

While fear of infection at government hospitals is hardly new, the authorities have only recently started taking serious note of the threat.

'Fumigation is conducted more frequently now. Currently, one of our OTs is closed following a gangrene surgery conducted there a few days ago,' said D.K. Jha, deputy superintendent, Medical College and Hospital.

Some patients have been shifted elsewhere. Over 300 patients have been kept on hold.

'I have postponed my surgeries, because the bacteria might cause post-operative complications. I will wait for the green light from the authorities before conducting any further surgeries,' said Sandipan Gupta, head of department (plastic surgery), Medical College and Hospital.

At least 60 patients in need of urological, gastro-enterological and orthopaedic surgery have been turned away by the hospital in the past three days. The total number of refusals by all affected departments is at least 125.

'My father was supposed to undergo prostate surgery on Thursday evening, but only a cystoscopy was conducted before they let him go,' complained Aloke Panda.

Hospitals like RG Kar and SSKM are also under pressure. At SSKM, however, the bacteria is not to blame.

With the cardio-thoracic unit undergoing a complete overhaul, the OT will be closed for the next two months, forcing cancellation of all scheduled cardio-thoracic surgeries.

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