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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 12:31 GMT
Superbugs in the firing line
Staphylococcus aureus is very common (Picture: Pfizer)

National standards for hygiene in hospitals to halt the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs have been announced by the Department of Health (DoH).

This issue affects thousands of patients throughout the NHS
Health minister John Denham
The guidance is designed to combat the growing threat of hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, which are resistant to some antibiotics.

Cases of the infection, which can be fatal, are now much more common in the NHS.

The main points of the DoH guidance are:

  • Hygiene training for all staff

  • Infection control teams in every hospital made up of doctors, nurses and microbiologists

  • These teams to be supervised by local Infection Control Committees which will include the local health authority consultant in communicable disease control

  • Every NHS hospital to produce an annual report measuring its performance in controlling hospital-acquired infections

John Denham says the government is determined to tackle the problem
Health Minister John Denham said: "This issue affects thousands of patients throughout the NHS.

"Elderly people, the very young and those who have had major operations can all find themselves seriously ill as a result of these bugs.

"The idea that superbugs are unbeatable is rubbish. With good practice and careful hygiene they can be beaten."

Other areas to be covered by the guidance include catering and food hygiene, medical equipment and waste management.

The progress of hospitals in combating MRSA will be independently assessed locally by auditors and nationally by the Commission for Health Improvement and the Audit Commission.

Epidemic warning

Professor Brian Duerden, deputy director of the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), warned earlier this month that levels of MRSA had reached "epidemic" levels in UK hospitals.

He said incidents involving MRSA have risen 12-fold since 1991 and are responsible for 37% of all staphylococcus aureus infections, as opposed to only three per cent in 1991.

Two particularly strong strains of the bug are thought to be behind the rise in cases.

The PHLS has warned GPs to reduce prescription of antibiotics to avoid people developing resistance to them.

In the United States, doctors estimate as many as 70% of the bacteria in infections people catch in hospital are now resistant to at least one antibiotic.

Staphlococcus aureus is carried by a third of the population and is one of the most common bacteria, causing boils, skin problems and septicaemia.

However, many people carry the bacteria without ever displaying symptoms - these generally only arise in certain patients whose health is vulnerable during serious illness or following surgery.

Hospital patients and elderly people in nursing homes are particularly at risk of infection because they often have exposed wounds and a weakened immune system.

Doctors at a Scottish hospital discovered two new strains of hospital superbug, VRSA - vancomycin resistant staphylococcus aureus.

Vancomycin is regarded as one of the last antibiotics able to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria
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See also:
12 Jul 99 |  Health
Double action antibiotic could tackle MRSA
05 Nov 99 |  Health
Expert warns against superbug 'epidemic'
06 Oct 99 |  Health
Superbug escapes hospital
18 Jun 99 |  Health
We can stop bug, say doctors
18 Jun 99 |  Health
Six diseases threaten world
04 Nov 99 |  Health
Superbug death toll rises

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