MRSA cases likely to double, expert warns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2008, 12:00am

A drug-resistant superbug will continue to spread in the community this year, with the number of infections likely to be double that of last year, the head of the Centre for Health Protection has warned.

The number of community-acquired cases of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) could be expected to rise from 166 in 2007 (up to December 27) to about 300 this year, Thomas Tsang Hoi-fai said.

The bacteria, resistant even to some of the strongest antibiotics, can cause skin and blood infections and pneumonia. Community-acquired MRSA was listed as a notifiable disease in January last year.

The centre has been appealing for doctors and patients to use antibiotics properly to avoid further emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.

Dr Tsang said that as well as reporting by doctors, all public accident and emergency departments and public clinics would start active surveillance in the first quarter this year. Doctors would screen patients who had wounds with pus for community-acquired MRSA. The centre would also test samples collected by private doctors.

'With this enhanced surveillance, we expect that the number of cases we spot will increase. There could be well over 200 cases or even 300 cases in 2008,' he said.

Among the 70 cases reported during the first six months of last year, Chinese accounted for 43 cases and Filipinos 16. 'It is a rather high percentage among these ethnic groups and we are trying to find out the reason,' Dr Tsang said.

Cases of another infectious disease, chickenpox, have risen significantly over the past four years. There were 6,780 cases in 2003, rising to 17,729 last year.

The centre's scientific committee will soon discuss a cost-effectiveness study by the University of Hong Kong on whether the government should provide free chickenpox and pneumococcal vaccine to all newborns.

Some doctors have been calling for free vaccination for the 40,000-odd babies born in the city each year, saying the vaccines, which cost HK$500 to HK$600 per shot in private clinics, are too dear for poor families.

Dengue fever is also on the rise in the city. The number of cases rose from 31 in 2004 to 58 last year.

Looking ahead, Dr Tsang said the spread of HIV among men who had sex with men was 'worrying'.

A large cluster of HIV infections with a very similar genetic sequence was detected in 2005. By the middle of last year, the cluster had affected 66 people. Two other HIV clusters have affected 12 and eight people. Most of the cases in the three clusters were men who had sex with men.

Dr Tsang said the centre would work with non-governmental organisations to promote safe sex.

In the coming year, the centre will also develop a new diseases information system to investigate outbreaks. It will be able to locate patients with infectious diseases in different districts and even buildings and plot them on a computer screen.

Medical Association president Choi Kin said yesterday the centre needed to get extra resources to set up larger sentinel surveillance networks among private doctors.

Cause for concern

There are 32 types of notifiable diseases

The number of such cases reported last year: 25,372