‘If this fails, she’ll lose her leg’: Australia’s looming superbug crisis

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGETwo years ago, a serious cut to Sandra Hocking’s ankle would have been treated with modern antibiotics. Today, she faces losing her leg.
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The 75-year-old Whittlesea residentwas in Zambia last September helping orphans whenshe fell into a hole and sliced open her ankle.

She returned to Australia with agaping woundthat refused to heal.

Sandra Hocking contracted a superbug after she fell in a hole in Zambia and cut her ankle. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Ms Hocking washorrifiedwhen doctors told her in April that she had contracted a deadly antibiotic-resistantsuperbug, and there was nomedication availableto treat it.

In what her doctors believe is one of the worst cases of a superbug infection ever seen inAustralia, she nowfaces the prospect of having her leg amputated.

“It’s a total bastard of an organismin that it’s one of the most resistant,” Ms Hocking’s doctor,LindsayGrayson, said. “It’s one of the worst cases I’ve seen.”

Just two years ago the bug, called pseudomonas,was treated with modern antibiotics. But it has since become resistant to them all.

Sandra Hocking shows her healing superbug wound at the Austin Hospital. Photo: Wayne Taylor

“The pus coming out of her leg was loaded with this superbug. We only needed the slightest error bystaff and it could spread to equipment and other patients,” ProfessorGrayson said.

Placed in isolationat the Austin hospital, Ms Hocking was eventually treated withtwo old antibiotics, one which was phased out because it caused kidney failure in high doses.

She was faced with the frightening choice of taking the drugs or losing her leg.

“I’d heard of superbugs … but the fact that I got it … I was devastated. I cried and I cried,” Ms Hocking said.

An expert team of doctors from Austinhospital and Melbourne and Monash universities carefully administered the drugs using an intravenousdrip.

She also had multiplesurgeries and herdoctors graftedskin from her arm onto her ankle to increase blood flow to the area, atechniqueused before the invention of antibiotics.

“This is her last chance,” Professor Grayson said. “If this fails, she’ll lose her leg. She has a very anxious wait.”

Sandra Hocking’s superbug wound before it was treated. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Professor Grayson believes asuperbug crisis is on Australia’s doorstep.

He said there were now patients presenting with superbug infections once a week in Australian hospitals.

“We need people to understand that if we continue to recklessly misuse and overuse antibiotics, as we have for the past 50-70 years, doctors will be faced with the choice to amputate infected limbs or risk their patients’ lives,” Professor Grayson said.

He said Australia was lagging behind the rest of the world in infection control, and that acoordinated national authority was urgently needed.

ProfessorGrayson also called for better surveillance, enforced mandatory reporting and more research.

The looming superbug crisis will be in the spotlight on Thursday at theAntimicrobialResistance Summit at theWalter & Eliza Hall Institute.

The Age