MRSA superbugs becoming more common in the community

MRSA superbugs becoming more common in the community

Originally published on Newshub

About a week ago a nurse from my medical centre rang to check whether my daughter's conjunctivitis had responded to the antibiotic eye-drops she had been prescribed. 

"Yes," I said. "She's nearly back to normal."

"That's good," the nurse replied. She went on to explain that a swab taken from my daughter's eye had tested positive to MRSA - a superbug that is resistant to antibiotic treatments.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles says increasing numbers of New Zealanders carry the MRSA  methicillin-resistant S. aureus bacteria.

"Here in New Zealand, we have very high rates of S. aureus disease - amongst the highest in the developed world. Most of these are MSSA [methicillin-sensitive S. aureus] but an interesting thing is happening here - we have very high rates of S. aureus skin infections which are treated with a cream containing the antibiotic fusidic acid. 

"Use of the cream is allowing fusidic-acid resistant strains of S. aureus to thrive and so they are starting to become more common as a cause of skin infections. 

"Unfortunately, the strains that are resistant to fusidic acid also tend to be MRSA, so our high rate of skin infections is driving the increase in MRSA."

These superbugs have the capacity to cause serious infections which can be life-threatening, and we're losing our ability to treat them, Dr Wiles told Newshub.

"That will mean one day, in the not too distant future, infection caused by bacteria like these will be untreatable and people will begin to die from things that have been easily treated for the last 50 to 60 years."

World Antibiotic Awareness Week kicked off on November 12 and, with it, a message from the Health Quality and Safety Commission - use antibiotics responsibly.

The time taken to develop new antibiotics, combined with a lack of incentive for pharmaceutical companies to produce them, means antibiotic resistance is an increasing threat, Dr Sally Roberts, clinical lead for the commission's infection prevention and control programme.

"The timeframe for developing a new antibiotic is 10-15 years and it's not very profitable for companies as antibiotics tend to only be used for short courses. As a result, the antibiotic pipeline has slowed down."

"With antibiotic resistance on the rise globally, it's vital that we preserve the remaining antibiotics we do have. They need to be treated as precious commodities and not used indiscriminately when they aren't necessary."

Dr Derek Sherwood from the Choosing Wisely campaign says a growing number of infections, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea, are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.

"Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality."

Dr Wiles says many healthy people carry a colony of bacteria in their noses, on their skin, or in their gut.

"The bacteria are thought to be fairly harmless there, but can become a problem if they move to another place, like the eye, or in the blood stream via a cut or wound."

If you are colonized, it is difficult to get rid of the bacteria.

"The best way to keep safe is to try to prevent transmission of the bacteria from your nose, where they are relatively harmless, so places they can cause problems like eyes and cuts.

"That means washing hands before touching eyes/cuts, and generally trying to remember not to touch your face. And no picking noses," Dr Wiles advises.

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