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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
How to beat hospital superbug
Intensive care
MRSA is a significant problem in hospitals
Clues to the way the hospital superbug MRSA grows on medical equipment may lead to more effective methods to combat the bacteria.

A team from Exeter University has examined how the MRSA bacteria build up on silastic rubber, the main component of catheters.

They found that the bacteria join forces to form a slimy coating called a biofilm that is very difficult to remove unless a combination of heavy-duty antibiotics is used.

MRSA bacteria have an in-built genetic resistance to most antibiotics, but can usually be controlled with one of two modern antibiotics known as vancomycin and rifampicin.

However, the formation of a biofilm on catheters or prosthetic joints, provides the bacteria with extra protection, both from these last-resort drugs and the body's immune system.

Early treatment

Lead researcher Dr Steven Jones, now based at Cardiff University, said: "We've noticed that MRSA biofilms were only killed when vancomycin and rifampicin were used in combination.

"This strategy was effective at rapidly decreasing biofilm coverage and thickness over a 48 hour period."

Dr Jones said the use of either of the antibiotics in isolation could also be effective - but only if they were administered at an early enough stage.

"Younger biofilms that had grown for eight hours fared worse compared to those that had grown for 24 hours.

"This work suggests that antibiotics should be given directly after surgery before a biofilm can become properly established."

Figures published earlier this year by the Public Health Laboratory Service showed wide variation in the rate of MRSA infections in hospitals across England.

The number of cases of MRSA bloodstream infection in acute trusts ranged from 0 to 0.69 cases per 1,000 days spent by patients in hospital.

The research was presented at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at Loughborough University.

See also:

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