THREE patients at Southampton General Hospital have contracted a potentially deadly superbug which is resistant to anti-biotics.

The killer bug which has claimed the lives of more than a dozen people in the UK has been found in the patients during a routine screening, hospital bosses have confirmed this afternoon.

The bacterium, called Klebsiella pneumoniae producing carbapenemase (KPC) is carried harmlessly in the gut of all humans and animals but, if it enters a wound or spreads into the urinary tract or bloodstream, can cause serious infection.

The patients have been moved into isolation and the staff and patients who had come into contact with them are also being screened to see if they have also contracted it.

KPC is part of a group of bacteria - known as carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae - that has developed the ability to destroy strong antibiotics called carbapenems, which are often used by doctors as a last resort to treat complicated infections when other antibiotics would or have failed.

The bug had previously not been screened for due to its low prevalence. However, a recent report suggested KPC has been responsible for hundreds of infections and had claimed the lives of 17 people in the country.

Southampton General Hospital has now launched a fresh drive on hand washing and antibiotic prescribing as the bug is thought to spread as a result of poor hand hygiene and the over-prescribing of antibiotics.

Dr Graeme Jones, director of the infection prevention unit at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Unfortunately this type of infection is on the rise, but we hope to have limited its transmission on this occasion by acting quickly to move patients and undertake a screening programme.

“However, what this discovery tells us is that this problem is not going to disappear and emphasises the need for us all - both clinically and via our patients and visitors - to focus attention on taking stringent infection prevention action to limit risk.

“The difficulty is that overtreatment with a more powerful antibiotic than is actually needed encourages the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and that is something we are seeing more and more of.”

Although KPC is treatable, it is more difficult and may require a combination of drugs or the use of older antibiotics to be effective.

In England, approximately two thirds of trusts have had between one and 20 patients identified with similar infections over the past five years, including two trusts in Manchester that have had more than 100 patients during the same period.