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.