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Child’s death at Glasgow hospital linked to pigeon droppings infection

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A fungal infection linked to pigeon droppings was a “contributing factor” in the death of a child at a Glasgow hospital.

Control measures had been put in place at the Queen Elizabeth University hospital after two cases of cryptococcus were detected.

Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman ordered a review of the design of the building after the deaths of two patients.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC) had launched an investigation into the death of the child, whose cause of death was not confirmed until Tuesday.

The health board said the second patient affected – who was elderly – died of an unrelated matter.

Ms Freeman told MSPs at Holyrood that traces of pigeon excrement had been found in a top floor room, where there was a crack in the wall that was “invisible to the naked eye”.

She said: “In November, the bacteria cryptococcus was identified in one patient.

“That patient was discharged for palliative care and sadly subsequently died in late December – but cryptococcus was not a contributing factor in their death.

“In December, a post-mortem of a child who had passed away confirmed that cryptococcus was both present and a contributing factor in their death.”

“I know I speak for the whole chamber when I say to both families that our thoughts and sympathies go to them.”

Ms Freeman added the two cases have served as “the trigger” for the implementation of additional infection control measures on the site.

Jeane Freeman has confirmed 'pigeon droppings' were a 'contributing factor' in the child's death
Image:
Jeane Freeman has confirmed pigeon droppings were a ‘contributing factor’ in the child’s death

These include the provision of preventative anti-fungal medication and filter machines to ensure clean air.

The health secretary said: “I am confident that the board has taken all steps that it should to ensure and maintain public safety.”

Ms Freeman added that an investigation traced the source of the infection to a plant room on the 12th floor of the building “where invisible to the naked eye, was a very small break in the wall”.

She continued: “In that small break, pigeons had entered the plant room and excrement was found there.

“It was found by smoke detection, because as I say it was invisible to the naked eye.

“What they continued to work on, was how the bacteria from that excrement could enter a closed ventilation system.”

The child and the elderly patient have not been named due to confidentiality.

An NHSGCC spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with the families at this distressing time… the organism is harmless to the vast majority of people and rarely causes disease in humans.”

The infection is caused by inhaling the fungus cryptococcus, primarily found in soil and pigeon droppings.

The health board said a small number of child and adult patients who are vulnerable to the infection are receiving medication and this had proved effective.

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