Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms and plays a vital part in patient care at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.
Microscopic organisms include:
- bacteria (MRSA, streptococcus, anthrax)
- fungi (athlete’s foot, ring worm)
- parasites (malaria, liver fluke, giardia)
- viruses (influenza, AIDS, norovirus)
The two most important roles of the microbiology team are the diagnosis and management of infective conditions in patients and infection prevention and control within the hospital.
Many patients who are treated at QEHB have injuries or illnesses which require laboratory tests to understand more about their condition. This can include diagnosing particular diseases, as well as identifying infections which have developed as a result of injuries or the treatment of the patient’s underlying condition.
The hospital has eight consultant microbiologists, including a virologist, and three specialist registrars. These medical staff are highly active in responding to enquiries from hospital staff and local general practitioners, attending ward rounds, and contributing to multi-disciplinary teams in many departments.
The hospital’s large, sophisticated laboratory is fully accredited by the Clinical Pathology Accreditation and processes more than 500,000 samples every year.
Research is a central element of the microbiology department’s work, particularly in its collaboration with world-renowned researchers at the University of Birmingham and at the School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham.
- Management of complicated infections
- Non-culture diagnosis
- Clinical trials
- Equipment and facilities evaluations
Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including disease), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems.
At a large hospital like QEHB, epidemiology is applied in many different contexts. Within microbiology, it is one of the most important areas of research because it looks at how infections spread between patients. This can happen between patients who are later admitted to hospital, or it can happen between patients who are already in hospital.
Dr Pauline Jumaa is the hospital’s Director of Infection Prevention and Control and has carried out significant research involving molecular epidemiology into how different infections spread within different patient group.
Dr Ira Das has undertaken various research projects on serious infective conditions including multi-resistant Acinetobacter transmission in the hospital, epidemiology and outcome of Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia and blood stream fungal infections.
Equipment and facilities evaluations
Testing and evaluating hospital equipment to ensure it conforms to the necessary guidelines for ease of cleaning is an important role for the microbiology team.
This includes testing ways of disinfecting diagnostic and surgical equipment to ensure they kill any and all microbes to prevent infection spread.
Hospital Infection Research Laboratory (HIRL)
This unit tests new cleaning and disinfecting equipment and products to establish their effectiveness, and can also test hospital equipment to see how easy it is to clean. First set up by the regional health board in the 1960s to investigate growing concerns about hospital infections, one of HIRL’s early discoveries was the role of undisinfected shaving brushes in spreading pseudomonas infections between surgical patients.
It now provides testing for commercial companies which are developing new cleaning technologies, such as using ultra-violet lamps to sterilise flexible endoscopes.
HIRL also carried out extensive testing of facilities at QEHB prior to its opening in 2010.
Dr Adam Fraise is Director of HIRL.
University of Birmingham
QEHB’s microbiology department has very strong ties to the University of Birmingham particularly through Professors Mark Pallen, Laura Piddock and Peter Hawkey.
The department has a long history of collaboration with the School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University, the most recent of which covers invasive staphylococcal infections. Professor Peter Lambert has played an important role in the research relating to the above projects and since his recent retirement, Reader Anthony Hill and Senior lecturer Tony Worthington are continuing the collaboration with the Microbiology department at QEH.
The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM)
RCDM is based at the hospital and is an important research and clinical collaborator. Group Captain Andy Green is the RCDM’s Director of Infection Prevention and Control.
RCDM and University of Birmingham researchers all have heavy involvement in the NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre, alongside several QEHB microbiologists.