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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
New superbug found in UK
New bug is similar to the MRSA bacterium (Pfizer)
A new bacterium that appears to be resistant to even the most effective antibiotics has been found in the UK.

The latest superbug is from the same family at MRSA - the bug which has become a serious problem in hospitals.

MRSA is a form of the Staphylococcus bacterium that is resistant to the commonly used antibiotic methicillin.

But the new bug has also developed low-level resistance to vancomycin - which is widely regarded as the last line of defence against superbugs.

We must use all antibiotics very carefully if we are to minimise the emergence of resistance to antibiotics

Dr Georgia Duckworth
The organism, called Glycopeptide-intermediate Staphylococcus aureus (GISA), was found to have infected a hospital patient in England last month.

Dr Georgia Duckworth, from the Public Health Laboratory Service, said: "With the development of antibiotic resistance, Staphylococcus aureus infections have become harder to treat as there are fewer antibiotics that are effective.

"Since the discovery of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), vancomycin has been the first choice antibiotic used in its treatment.

"Although strains of Staphylococcus aureus with low-level resistance to vancomycin have been identified before in Japan, United States and France, as well as in Scotland, this first GISA case in England is a serious development."


Dr Duckworth said the bug was still treatable by a number of drugs, including some which had only been introduced recently.

The patient concerned was successfully treated, but subsequently died from a cause unrelated to infection.

However, Dr Duckworth said the case underlined the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, and emphasised the problems associated with over-use of the drugs.

She said: "Whenever we use an antibiotic, even if totally appropriately, we encourage the development of resistance to it.

"We must use all antibiotics very carefully if we are to minimise the emergence of resistance to antibiotics.

"Once resistance has been detected, robust infection control practices are essential to contain the spread of such organisms.

"Investigations in the affected hospital indicate that there has been no further spread of this organism."

The case was reported in the PHLS publication Communicable Disease Report Weekly.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that lives harmlessly in the noses of around 20-30% of healthy people in the population.

It only causes problems when it invades the body through wounds, causing infections and in serious cases blood poisoning.

Around 100,000 patients a year pick up infections in hospitals.

It is thought that about 15% of these are preventable, saving patients' suffering and the NHS an estimated 150m a year.

See also:

12 Jun 00 | Health
Action on superbugs
25 May 01 | Health
'Birth of a superbug'
08 Apr 01 | Health
Secrets of superbug success
17 Feb 00 | Health
Hospital infections: case studies
17 Feb 00 | Health
NHS bugs 'kill 5,000 a year'
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