THREE Scottish patients have died after contracting a new strain of the deadly Clostridium difficile bug.
Health Protection Scotland (HPS) said it was the first time the new strain - known as ribotype 332 - had been officially reported on anywhere in the world.
The patients, who were severely ill due to other underlying health problems, all died after contracting the infection.
HPS said doctors and lab staff had been put on alert for the new strain, even though only three cases had been identified so far.
The HPS weekly report revealed that the 332 strain had been found in two patients treated in the same hospital in December last year and January this year.
Further genetic analysis showed that the strains in both patients were closely related.
In March a further case of C difficile 332 was reported to HPS from another hospital 15 miles away within the same NHS board. HPS said it could not identify the board involved.
The report said: “All three cases were severely ill due to other underlying conditions and died following their episode of CDI (C difficile infection).
“Other than the shared ribotype, no link has been identified between the cases from the separate hospitals.
“This is the first published report of C difficile PCR ribotype 332 in the UK and worldwide.”
The predominant types of C difficile in Scotland are made up of ten common strains, including 001, 027, 106 and 078.
HPS said it had alerted clinicians and laboratory staff across Scotland to be on the look-out for type 332. But it said the same infection prevention and control measures applied as with other types of the infection.
Camilla Wiuff, strategic lead for microbiology at HPS, said C difficile was the main cause of death in the first two patients and a contributory factor in the death of the patient who died in March.
She said the cases were not classed as an outbreak because the third case had not been linked to the first two.
“But it is an interesting finding that we have this same ribotype and we are doing further investigations to see if there are more patients with this ribotype,” Dr Wiuff said.
Past samples are now being re-examined to see if the 332 strain could be present and may have been missed.
Dr Wiuff said the 332 strain had occurred on one occasion previously somewhere in Europe, but this had not been the subject of an official report.
“It is quite a common event that new strains develop all the time. It is a natural evolution of genetics in the bacteria,” she added.
Dr Wiuff said there was no evidence so far to suggest the strain was causing more severe illness than other types of C difficle.
Reports of the new strain come after The Scotsman earlier this week revealed that officials were starting a new phase in the battle with C difficle by targeting cases in the community.
It follows a steep decline in cases in hospitals following efforts to improve hygiene and control antibiotic use, but continuing concern over persisting infections outside of hospitals.