Record high for superbug cases

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2007, 12:00am

A potentially fatal superbug infected 700 to 800 patients in public hospitals a month this year, a record high, the Centre for Health Protection said.

Of these, an estimated 100 to 200 patients could have died from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or golden staph) infections, based on initial figures. This figure is not definitive because data is not being collected on fatalities from golden staph. The bacterium is commonly found on the skin and in the noses of healthy people. In the worst cases, it can lead to pneumonia or septicaemia, an infection in the blood known as blood poisoning.

A pilot surveillance programme launched in April that now involved 27 public hospitals confirmed 700 to 800 hospital-acquired cases a month, said Raymond Yung Wai-hung, the centre's head of infection control.

'Although it has become endemic, we have not lost our grip on that,' Dr Yung said.

The Hospital Authority and the Department of Health would launch a hand-hygiene campaign among doctors, nurses and other health care personnel on January 21, he said.

The city might see a record high of at least 8,000 hospital-acquired cases this year. The centre estimated 5,470 cases occurred last year.

Community-acquired cases also reached a record high this year, at 155 by the end of last month, Dr Yung said. This compared with one case in 2004, seven in 2005 and 30 last year. A final report was due in the middle of next year involving all 44 public hospitals, he said.

Meanwhile, a health expert said insufficient measures were being taken to control the bug while it could still be stopped. Ho Pak-leung, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said: 'This is very worrying. Although the overall incidence remains at a low level, once it becomes endemic, experience from elsewhere clearly shows it will be with us forever.'

Professor Ho said about 10 per cent of cases typically invaded the bloodstream, lungs or other organs. 'About 10 to 20 per cent of those with invasive infections will die.'

He noted that the rate of community-acquired cases 'is already very high, primarily among those who are not Chinese, such as Caucasians and some ethnic minority groups in which the incidence rate is 30 to 40 per 100,000 population every year'.

He said such infections should be tackled to stop the bacteria from 'taking root in our community and spreading to our hospitals'.

The government should test spas, sports venues and athletics teams, he said. He also suggested that pregnant women and children in hospitals be tested as they were potential carriers.

Lo Wing-lok, a member of the centre's committee on emerging and zoonotic diseases, said the bacteria were in almost every public hospital probably because of overcrowding.