Drug-resistant bacteria threaten hospital patients

AN EPIDEMIC of infections resistant to nearly all antibiotics is putting patients at risk in hospitals nationwide, public-health experts said yesterday.

Cases involving one of the nastiest bugs, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), have risen 12-fold in the last eight years. Resistant strains of S. aureus now account for 37 per cent of all cases of blood poisoning caused by the bacteria compared with 3 per cent in 1991.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), which monitors new infections, has long warned of the growth of resistant bacteria due to over-prescription of antibiotics. Yesterday, Professor Brian Duerden, deputy director of the service, said: "MRSA has now reached epidemic proportions in blood- poisoning cases. The increased capacity of the most serious forms to resist antibiotics means measures must be taken on wards to prevent transmission to vulnerable patients precisely because of its broad capacity to spread."

Worry is centring on two particularly virulent strains of MRSA - numbers 15 and 16 - which can cause serious illness. Deaths caused by MRSA, however, are mostly in patients who are already seriously ill and have lowered immunity.

Hospitals across the country are being told to step up their infection- control procedures to prevent spread of the bug. Staff are being warned to wash their hands between treating patients, and to take special care with those already seriously ill. "Hand-washing is the single most important strategy," a PHLS spokesman said.

The problem of antibiotic-resistant infections has been growing for more than a decade but repeated warnings by the PHLS have fallen on deaf ears. It is caused by the over-prescription of antibiotics which prompts bacteria - which have an unrivalled capacity to adapt to their environment - to develop resistance. The PHLS has argued that antibiotics must be used sparingly and the newer ones not given to animals but reserved for human use.

The first evidence that the level of antibiotic prescription by GPs affects the growth of resistance in their own patients is published in the British Medical Journal. A study of 190 surgeries in Wales found the number of prescriptions for the antibiotic amoxicillin written by GPs varied from 61 courses per 1,000 patients each year to 912 courses.

The researchers tested the urine of patients being treated for urinary- tract infections for the presence of antibiotic-resistant bugs, mostly Escherichia coli. They found that patients with the highest levels of the resistant bacteria - up to 70 per cent - were from surgeries which prescribed the most antibiotics.

Dr Tony Howard, director of the PHLS in Wales and an author of the study, said: "This shows for the first time that there is a link between the antibiotics a GP surgery prescribes and antibiotic resistance patterns in the bugs isolated from the surgery's patients."

MRSA is the resistant form of S. aureus, a common bug carried in the noses of about one-third of the population. It causes boils, wound infections and, in severe cases, septicaemia.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?