- Fears that a new superbug is taking hold in Britain emerged
yesterday after a Royal Marines recruit was found to have died suddenly
from an infection with no known cure.
- Richard Campbell-Smith, 18, died three days after the
lethal toxin, which is linked to MRSA, entered his body through a scratch
in his leg.
- Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) is so virulent that
only a quarter of people in whom the infection spreads to the chest survive.
- The coroner investigating Mr Campbell-Smith's death was
so worried about an outbreak that she is writing to the chief medical officer.
- An expert told the Exeter inquest that she had seen two
examples in nine weeks and wanted to alert the public and doctors to the
dangers of the disease, which has been recorded in America, France and
- Dr Marina Morgan, a microbiologist, said: "It is
the worst bug I have seen and people really need to know about it. It is
- Mr Campbell-Smith was 28 weeks into his 32-week induction
at the Commando Training Centre, at Lympstone, Devon, when he died.
- He and other recruits had spent the week in rigorous
exercise and he scratched his legs while running on Oct 31 last year. He
was admitted to the centre's medical unit that day after complaining of
feeling unwell and cold.
- Three days later he was found collapsed on the floor
beside his bed in the early hours. He was taken to the Royal Devon and
Exeter Hospital where he died shortly afterwards.
- A post-mortem examination showed heart and respiratory
failure but traces of PVL were later found in his body.
- The inquest heard that he had contracted an ordinary
bacterium, staphylococcus, that would usually produce only a little pus
in a cut. But the bug developed into PVL.
- PVL is lethal because it kills off white blood cells,
leaving the victim unable to fight the infection.
- Dr Morgan said it was thought the disease had been eradicated
in the 1950s but it could be coming back as antibiotics lost their effectiveness
because of overuse.
- She said it usually attacked people under 40 and often
occurred alongside MRSA.
- "It multiplies very quickly: one bug will multiply
into 17 million within 24 hours.
- "Signs include pneumonia, coughing up blood and
very high temperatures but not everyone will look for it. Testing is very
complicated because samples have to be sent to London."
- Dr Elizabeth Earlan, the coroner, said: "I am going
to make a recommendation to the chief medical officer that he disseminate
information to all doctors, updating them on likely symptoms."
- The Department of Health said it was aware of cases of
PVL and the Health Protection Agency was monitoring the situation.
- Surgeon Lt-Cdr Alistair Allsop, based at Lympstone, said
that everybody had been shocked by the soldier's death.
- "He was a nice, likeable recruit," he said.
- Verdict: accidental death.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.