Record monthly high for superbug cases

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2008, 12:00am

Authorities issue alert after 37 cases of MRSA

Health authorities have issued an alert after the number of infections of a potentially fatal superbug hit a record monthly high.

Thirty-seven cases of 'golden staph' were recorded outside hospitals last month, which is the highest since surveillance began last year.

All had recovered except for two, who were in stable condition in hospital.

Golden staph, or methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is resistant to some of the strongest antibiotics.

It usually manifests itself as skin or soft-tissue infections. More serious complications may include pneumonia or septicaemia (blood poisoning). Most MRSA infections occur in hospitals or other health care settings.

'Based on our known surveillance data, reporting in 2007 peaked in the month of July,' a spokeswoman for the Centre for Health Protection said. Twenty-nine were reported that month. 'This year, we also observed a higher number of reports in July.'

Up to Saturday, there have been 149 cases so far this year. This compared with 173 for the whole of last year. There have been no deaths.

All were sporadic cases, except for a mother and her son who were infected one after the other, said the centre's consultant of community medicine, Chuang Shuk-kwan.

Twenty-seven cases required hospital admission while 10 cases were managed as outpatient.

Most of the patients required surgical incision and drainage of their skin and soft tissue infections.

Half were Chinese. The other half included Filipinos and other Asians, and Caucasians.

The centre is conducting genetic tests on strains. 'Our laboratory so far detected no unusual clustering, characteristics or trends,' the spokeswoman said.

The centre was closely monitoring new scientific evidence around this disease to better understand the risk factors, for better prevention and control measures, she added.

In recent years, many countries observed MRSA infections among healthy individuals in the community. It is mainly transmitted through direct contact with wounds, discharge and soiled areas, usually via hands, which may then contaminate other areas of the body, items or surfaces.

Symptoms may include redness, warmth, swelling, skin tenderness and pus drainage.

The superbug infection was first reported in Hong Kong in 2004.

Community-acquired MRSA became a notifiable disease on January 5 last year, with the aim of strengthening surveillance, and implementing public health measures more effectively.

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

It has said that as well as reporting by doctors, all public accident and emergency departments and public clinics started active surveillance in January. Doctors are screening patients who had wounds with pus for community-acquired MRSA. The centre is also testing samples collected by private doctors.

The prevention

To prevent transmission, doctors advise:

To avoid antibiotics unless prescribed by a medical professional; follow the directions precisely; complete the entire course of tablets;

Disinfect wounds promptly and cover to prevent secondary bacterial infections;

Enhance personal hygiene while taking antibiotics as loss of normal bacterial flora during treatment predisposes even healthy individuals