MRSA cases at public hospitals level off; further reduction difficult

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2012, 3:14am

The number of cases of the drug-resistant superbug MRSA remains steady at public hospitals, but may be reaching a point where further reduction is difficult, the Hospital Authority warns.

The use of powerful "big-gun" antibiotics, a measure seen as vital to containing the threat of drug-resistant superbugs, continues to rise in hospitals, but at the risk of making the strain more resistant.

The number of cases of MRSA - methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - rose slightly at public hospitals with accident and emergency wards to 142 in the third quarter of this year compared with 137 in the second quarter.

The increase comes despite MRSA cases having been on the decline since 2008.

Patients at Pok Oi Hospital in Yuen Long and Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan were more likely to get an MRSA infection than those at other hospitals. Four out of every 10,000 patients in acute care beds at Pok Oi Hospital had been infected in the third quarter; the number was three out of 10,000 at Yan Chai Hospital.

"The figures are not surprising, as the patients who are admitted to the two hospitals are older, usually from nursing homes, and the percentage of them who are already MRSA carriers is about 30 to 40 per cent, which is higher than the average 20 per cent," said Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong, Hospital Authority chief infection control officer.

Tsang said the hospitals quarantined newly admitted patients and conducted medical checks on them before sending them to wards to prevent the spread of the superbug.

However, the measure was not feasible at every public hospital due to limited space, he said. Also factors such as a shortage of medical staff to ensure disinfection, and overcrowding prevent us from reducing the number of cases, he added.

The use of "big gun" antibiotics increased about 20 per cent in the year to November, compared to last year, being used on 46 out of 1,000 patients, compared to 38 out of 1,000. Tsang said the adaptability of bacteria was strong and they mutated rapidly to become drug-resistant. "The strategies we can use in an attempt to reduce the use of antibiotics are to minimise cross infection and increase the effort on disinfection."