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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 13:49 GMT
Hospital bug figures 'offer hope'
C. difficile

Hospitals in England may be beginning to win the battle against infections, latest quarterly figures suggest.

Cases of MRSA fell by 10% from April to June to 1,303 - but it is not enough to halve the rate by the 2008 target date, the Health Protection Agency revealed.

And there are early indications Clostridium difficile infections may also be falling - the number of new cases was down 7% to 13,660.

But experts warned there had been changes in the way data was collected.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said the MRSA figures were impressive given hospitals were treating increasing numbers of elderly and seriously ill patients.

The latest quarterly figures for MRSA show 1,303 cases reported between April and June this year compared with 1,447 reported between January and March.

There appears to have been some progress, but these outbreaks keep occurring
B Brabant

For C. difficile, the figures showed there were 13,660 cases in patients aged 65 years or over from April to June 2007, a reduction of 1,022 cases on the same period last year.

C. difficile is compared to the same period as last year as it tends to peak in the winter, unlike MRSA.

MRSA has been steadily falling since September 2006, but C. difficile cases have been on the rise.

A separate small study done by the HPA and Office for National Statistics found that most people who die from MRSA infection are over 70 years old and have other serious illnesses.

Best practice

HPA infection expert Dr Georgia Duckworth said the increases in MRSA throughout the 1990s had been truly awful.

"But it's started to come down and that's brilliant news - two to three years ago professionals would have told you we couldn't have done that.

"When MRSA has become endemic or even hyper-endemic in a hospital it's not easy to turn that around."

Graph showing rates of C. difficile

But she was more cautious about the C. difficile figures, which she said seemed to be levelling off, but recent changes in surveillance systems made comparison difficult.

Professor Peter Boriello, director of the HPA Centre for Infections, said MRSA had fallen because hospital trusts had been forced to better adhere to best practice, such as hand washing and isolation of patients.

"However more work needs to be done to see the same level of decrease with C. difficile."

Professor Richard James, an expert in microbiology at Nottingham University, agreed there was still a long way to go.

"Contamination of the hospital environment with C. difficile spores requires more than a bucket and mop to remove them."

Health secretary Alan Johnson said he was encouraged by the reductions.

Graph showing rates of MRSA

"Healthcare-associated infections pose a significant challenge for health services around the world, including the NHS, and we are determined to tackle them.

"We are the only country in the world to impose mandatory, universal surveillance of MRSA and C. difficile."

Shadow health minister Andrew Lansley, said there were still far too many cases of C. difficile and called for a "zero tolerance" approach.

Liberal Democrat health secretary, Norman Lamb said trusts must not become complacent.

"The government is way off its target of halving the rate of MRSA infection by next year, and the general trend of C. difficile cases over the last few years has been upwards."

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