Rapid tests for deadly superbugs that are spreading in the community are urgently needed, an expert is warning.
The MRSA strain produces a toxin
Professor Richard James of the Centre for Healthcare Associated Infections at Nottingham University says Britain is vulnerable to the types of MRSA.
The toxin-producing strains, known as PVL, are spread outside of hospitals via skin-to-skin contact and appear as sores which look like insect bites.
Existing tests take more than two weeks, yet the bug can kill in a day.
Until recently, MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has been a problem within hospitals, affecting mainly the frail and elderly.
But the bug is escaping hospital wards to cause severe disease among otherwise healthy people in the wider community, particularly in the US, but also in the UK.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community associated MRSA accounts for 12% of MRSA cases.
Panton Valentine leukocidin (PVL) strains of community acquired MRSA can cause a particularly lethal disease called necrotizing pneumonia.
They are extremely aggressive and to make matters worse they also spread rapidly from person to person.
Last month the UK had its first documented serious outbreak. A nurse and a patient at a west Midlands hospital died from the PVL form of MRSA, which also infected six other people.
A new study in Science shows just how formidable the bug can be, causing severe pneumonia, inflammation and tissue damage.
Professor James said: "The results of this work highlight the urgent requirement for tests that can distinguish hospital acquired MRSA from community acquired MRSA.
"At the moment we have no screening for community acquired MRSA in the community, and no rapid detection of PVL and other toxins in hospital strains of S. aureus in the UK."
Although PVL MRSA is resistant to common antibiotics, other antibiotics are available to treat it, particularly when diagnosed early.
Professor James explained: "It is important to treat the patient with antibiotics that block expression of the PVL toxin as quickly as possible in order to reduce the lung damage."
He called for more funding to research the problem.
Dr Mark Enright, an expert in molecular epidemiology at Imperial College, warned: "PVL strains of MRSA are emerging as a major threat to healthy people of all ages around the world."
The Health Protection Agency has published information to enable GPs and clinicians to recognise potential cases early and to then ensure that laboratory confirmation is obtained, treatment started early and infection control and hygiene advice implemented.