The bug that kills


'MINIMAL' levels of infection from MRSA in public hospitals on the Coffs Coast do not mean that antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs' are not a problem in the area.

A worldwide and steadily-increasing problem, MRSA hit the headlines this week when recently-released Victorian health statistics showed that 123 patients, who died in Victorian hospitals over the 11 months from June, 2004, to May, 2005, were infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The figures showed that MRSA had been found in more than 30 hospitals in that State and had infected more than 1600 people.

MRSA is a strain of golden staph commonly acquired in hospitals. It is one of a class of 'superbugs' which have become resistant to almost all types of antibiotics.

Victorian Department of Human Services' chief clinical adviser Jenny Bartlett said only a small number of those who died did so as a result of catching the bug.

In the case of one Victorian teaching hospital, 12 patients had MRSA at the time of their death, but only two actually died from MRSA.

"We have no way of differentiating whether they died of or with the bug, but in the majority of cases they would have died with the bug and not of the bug," Dr Bartlett told ABC radio.

The Victorian Government announced recently that introducing an alcohol hand rub would be the public hospitals' new weapon against the superbug. MRSA is spread by touch. Hand washing is considered the most important way to prevent the spread of MRSA, and alcohol rubs are said to be more effective than soap and water.

The Health Services Union has called for the Victorian Government to introduce specialist hygiene squads to carry out random cleaning spot checks on operating theatres, patient wards and outpatient areas for blood, dirt and other potential health hazards.

Professor Peter Collignon, from Canberra Hospital, said it was not uncommon for hundreds of people to die from the infection each year.

He said apart from people who had severe underlying diseases before acquiring MRSA, there were a reasonable number of people who got severe infections, not only MRSA but ordinary golden staph, while in health care, and quite a number of those people could die.

The North Coast Area Health Service released a statement yesterday saying that the incidence of MRSA at Coffs Harbour Health Campus was lower than at many similar hospitals across Australia and 'patients are carefully and effectively managed'.

"NCAHS facilities have specialist staff and a range of infection-control protocols designed to minimise the occurrence of bacterial infections and to treat patients and prevent the spread of any bacteria detected," the statement said.

Kodey Brown, 20, of Upper Orara, got golden staph in hospital more than six years ago after he fell off a motorbike and broke both the major bones in his left arm.

Surgeons at what was then the Coffs Harbour Base Hospital in Victoria Street cut his arm open so they could put wire around the bones of his arm to hasten the knitting of the bones, but the wound became infected.

"It went all yukky and there was a lot of pus," Mr Brown said.

The infection meant a return to hospital, a long course of antibiotics and draining of the infected wound.

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