• Sun
  • Jul 27, 2014
  • Updated: 4:01am
NewsHong Kong

One new superbug infection every 18 minutes in Hong Kong public hospitals

Statistics for public hospitals show cases have risen 15pc since 2011, with overcrowding and Hong Kong's ageing population given as key factors

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 2:21pm

Public hospitals reported a new case of superbug infection every 18 minutes last year, according to Hospital Authority figures.

And more than a tenth of the cases led to a blood infection that put patients at risk of developing life-threatening sepsis without prompt treatment.

The statistics show an overall 15 per cent increase in three major types of superbug infection from 2011.

They underline the threat from superbugs, which was branded a "global emergency" in a World Health Organisation report on Wednesday.

Hong Kong University microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung - who presented the figures at the Centre for Health Protection's annual hand hygiene campaign launch on Tuesday - said the alarming speed at which superbugs spread at public hospitals was a serious concern, particularly in view of the city's ageing population.

Last year, a total of 22,936 new patients were infected by one of the three major superbugs - extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (CRA) - up from 19,881 cases recorded in 2011. A superbug is a bacterium that has developed resistance to antibiotic drugs, rendering common treatments ineffective.

The reasons for the sharp rise in resistance are "complicated", Ho said. But he explained: "Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

"Because of overcrowding, organisms spread easily from people to people both in hospitals and in the community.

Ho, chairman of the Health Protection Programme on Antimicrobial Resistance and a member of the Scientific Committee on Infection Control at the Centre for Health Protection, added: "The increasing elderly population also makes the situation worse. Old people are more likely to develop infections and so require more treatment with antibiotics."

Overprescription of antibiotics is another reason for the rise. Ho said this problem was intensified by "very limited access" to rapid diagnostic testing facilities for public hospital doctors, which reduced their ability to give patients precise treatment in emergencies.

"So many doctors will try to err on the safer side and overprescribe," he said.

Last year at Queen Mary Hospital alone, 232 patients died due to bloodstream infections.

Of these, 35 per cent were dead by the time their test reports were returned.

"There's good evidence that improved access to rapid diagnostic testing can save lives."

Ho added that more transparency was needed about patients infected by superbugs in Hong Kong because data provided by the Hospital Authority lacked detail.

"I don't see a legitimate reason not to make full disclosure of the figures," he said.


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There seems to be a culture of going to the Doctors with even the most trivial of illnesses such as colds or stomach bugs. Which I suppose is understandable in a post SARs HK. But this culture of over visiting doctors surgeries along with the Doctors habits of over medicating with antibiotics I feel contributes to the increase in resistant bacteria. For example my work encourages a doctors note if I have to take over 1/2 a day off sick (a not unusual policy in HK). But this too must contribute to the problem. I had a common cold, not life threatening, just prevented me from going into work. I went to the doctor for a note to explain my absence and left with a prescription for antibiotics. A little commonsense is needed here I think!
Superbugs? Those folks who rioted in Hangzhou because the fireflies were AWOL should book a stay in a Hong Kong hospital. Well at least the ones who aren't pregnant.
Years ago, it was reported in SCMP that patients in Hong Kong weren’t taking prescribed antibiotic drugs continuously after they felt better without revisit for more prescription from their doctor. It was reported the limited quantity of the prescription was to lure patients to pay doctor’s fee again for revisits. It was also warned that Hong Kong people would be unresponsive to antibiotic drugs in the future. For those aging folks, the future has arrived who are resistance to antibiotic drugs?
"There's good evidence that improved access to rapid diagnostic testing can save lives."
But there's no budget for saving lives. Money, which is a man-made fiction to begin with, is hoarded for some future 'rainy day' and used for unnecessary projects, such as a high-speed rail link, a bridge to Zhuhai, a third runway and to reward private health care interests, including subsidizing private insurance.
There is nothing stopping adequate public health care, including preventative care, treatment and diagnostics except the priorities of those in charge..
My mother in law and sister in law both died of hospital acquired infections in Prince of Wales within 6 months of each other. The infections were drug resistant and they were gone in less than 2 weeks. Two cases do not make for a comprehensive study but I certainly think they point to a potentially serious issue that until now has not been in the press..
Hi rpasea,
Thank you for your comment. I am sorry to hear about your losses; deepest condolences to you and your family. I was wondering if you'd mind sharing further your personal experience with this issue? If you are willing, please drop me an email at jeanette.wang@scmp.com. Thank you very much.
Kind regards,
Jeanette Wang
Here's a pretty good podcast documentary about the post-antibiotic era from the CBC's (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's) weekly science show, 'Quirks and Quarks': ****www.cbc.ca/quirks/2014/03/15/2014-03-15-1/


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