Hospital superbug spreading faster

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am


A deadly superbug usually associated with hospitals is spreading fast in the community and becoming more resistant to drugs, health chiefs say.

The number of cases of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)among people who have not been treated in hospital hit a record high of 624 last year, more than triple the 173 cases seen in 2007, according to the latest edition of Communicable Diseases Watch, a Department of Health newsletter.

Separately, the Hospital Authority revealed that fewer cases of MRSA could be controlled using antibiotics. The resistance rate had been increasing by about 1 per cent per year and by last year 43 per cent of cases could not be treated with drugs.

'No matter whether it is in the community or in the public hospitals, the MRSA outbreaks are already slightly out of control,' Ho Pak-leung, a University of Hong Kong microbiologist, said. Among elderly people, the fatality rate for MRSA blood poisoning could reach 40 per cent, Ho said.

'You can say that it is a vicious cycle,' Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong, chief infection control officer for the Hospital Authority, said yesterday. 'The more cases of these infections [there are], the more antibiotics have to be used, and it is possible for these bugs to genetically mutate to become stronger and more resistant.

'The use of these medicines should be carefully balanced by the doctors. Our target is to reduce the usage to the minimum level.'

Tsang said hospitals were using larger quantities of the strongest antibiotics - dubbed 'big guns' - overall, and giving bigger doses to individual patients, especially in intensive care units, where they are more likely to have come into contact with bacteria.

Authority data shows patients at Pok Oi Hospital are three times more likely to get an MRSA infection than those at other hospitals. Four out of every 10,000 patients in acute beds at the Yuen Long hospital have been infected with MRSA so far this year, against an average of 1.3 patients per 10,000 at other public hospitals.

Health experts said a higher instance of MRSA infection could indicate poor hygiene, a shortage of medical staff or overcrowding.

The disease was first identified in Britain in the 1960s and it has become more common as the use of antibiotics have spread. The first cases involving people who had not been under treatment were seen in the 1990s.

Hong Kong had its first MRSA case outside a hospital in 2004. Between the establishment of a monitoring system in 2007 and last year, some 1,942 MRSA cases were recorded in the non-hospital settings. The department said the number of cases had risen by about 100 every year.

Three people who have contracted MRSA in the community have died. Two-thirds of those infected needed hospital treatment, of whom more than half needed surgery. One risk factor was the sharing of personal items. Frequent hand washing can help stop the spread of the disease.