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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 11:22 GMT
Superbug deaths increase 15-fold
Handwashing is the main way of preventing infections
The number of deaths involving the hospital superbug MRSA has soared over the last decade, official figures reveal.

Deaths from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus increased from 51 in 1993 to 800 in 2002.

The Office of National Statistics said cases of MRSA increased from 210 to 5,309 over the same period.

Experts said the rise was partly due to better surveillance - but that more cases of MRSA were being seen.

Infections cannot be totally eradicated as they are the price we pay for advances in medical treatments
Dr Georgina Duckworth, Health Protection Agency
It has been estimated that hospital-acquired infections, including MRSA, cost the NHS around 1 billion a year.

In December, the government announced a crackdown on poor hospital hygiene.

It introduced a raft of measures including an director of infection for each hospital who should talk to staff about the importance of handwashing - the main method of transmission.


The latest statistics emerged from an Office of National Statistics and Health Protection Agency study.

Researchers looked at thousands of death certificates from 1993 to 2002 which mentioned any kind of Staphylococcus aureus.

They then went through them to see how many mentioned MRSA, the drug-resistant form of the infection, as a direct or contributing cause of death.

MRSA was identified as a direct cause of death in 15 cases in 1993, rising to 248 in 2002.

Dr Georgia Duckworth, an MRSA expert at the HPA said: "It is difficult to establish whether MRSA is the underlying cause of a patient's death or just a contributory factor because the majority of infections are in people who are already very sick, and we don't know if they would have died as a result of their underlying illness whether or not they had MRSA.

"This research however does show that MRSA is making an increasing contribution to illness and mortality."

She added: "By following good infection control procedures, the spread of MRSA and other infections in hospital can be limited and controlled.

"However, although many of these infections can be prevented, they cannot be totally eradicated as they are the price we pay for advances in medical treatments, which often allow patients who are severely sick and vulnerable to infection, to survive."

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: "Preventing and reducing hospital infection rates and the main 'superbugs' including MRSA is a key priority for the NHS.

"We share this problem with other countries, but we are determined to be up with the best in tackling it

"While these infections will never be entirely preventable, there is more that can be done - and is being done - to deal with this problem."

Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley said: "Deaths involving MRSA can be prevented. What is needed is for hospitals to implement best practice.

"Real power must be handed back to the nurses in charge of the wards as only they can ensure that standards do not slip."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow added: "Ministers have failed to take this issue seriously for too long. People go into hospital to get better.

"But they are getting sicker because of staff shortages and because infection control is not a high enough priority."

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22 Dec 03  |  Health
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Sharp rise in 'superbug' deaths
13 Dec 02  |  Health

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