Isolates from a presumptive nosocomial outbreak of infection at a large teaching hospital were typed by pyrolysis mass spectrometry (PMS) and antibiograms. One isolate, from the putative index case, was dissimilar from the outbreak strain, but 24 isolates from 16 patients were indistinguishable by both methods. The outbreak centred on two wards for the acute care of the elderly, with a few cases elsewhere. Transfer of patients appeared to be the route of transmission between wards. There was a significant fall in the incidence of cases following intervention by the Infection Control Unit. This included ward inspection, advice on antibiotic usage and advice on prevention of faecal-oral transfer, particularly by proper handwashing. Subsequent monitoring of infection showed a background of sporadic, dissimilar isolates with occasional apparent cross-infection incidents limited to a few patients. In suspected outbreaks, patterns of antibiotic susceptibility may be useful in initial screening, before referral for more sophisticated typing. There was excellent correlation between PMS results, antibiograms and epidemiological information.


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