SCOTTISH hospitals are at risk of a new potentially deadly superbug outbreak unless attitudes towards viral screening change, according to scientists.

Rates of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE) in Scotland are relatively low compared to other parts of Europe, the US, India and Africa.

The bacteria live harmlessly in the gut in healthy people but can be extremely dangerous if they get into the bloodstream, urine or surgical wounds and cause an infection.

However, in the first study of its type, researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) found a lack of awareness among health professionals and the public about the threat of CPE.

More than 30% of nurses questioned in a nationwide survey were unaware of the emerging risk of CPE and the same percentage thought taking rectal swabs from patients – the best screening method – was unacceptable.

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Lead study author Professor Kay Currie, an associate dean at GCU School of Health and Life Sciences, said: “This is very important research because it will be used to educate nurses and raise awareness among the general public, which will increase uptake of screening and help prevent an outbreak of this very dangerous resistant bacteria in the UK.”

Almost 70% of nurses quizzed in the survey thought the public would be embarrassed by a rectal swab and around three-quarters said they would ask patients to do the test themselves, despite the fact this method may be unreliable.

Half of the nurses surveyed said they had not been informed about their hospital’s policy and procedures for CPE screening and less than half felt the consequences of CPE to their patients were so severe that screening was a priority.

Most members of the public surveyed strongly agreed that providing a rectal swab was acceptable, contrary to nurses’ perceptions.

As a result of the research, NHS Education for Scotland is developing new online educational resources for nurses to help them understand that the public are not as embarrassed by the rectal swab test as they think.

Professor Jacqui Reilly, lead consultant for healthcare associated infection, antimicrobial resistance and infection control at Health Protection Scotland, said: “This study demonstrates the importance of ensuring any screening programme, for the identification and prevention of these infections, is based on an understanding of the important public health principle of acceptability.”

The research has been published in the BMC journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control.