Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 00:03 UK

'New superbug' concerns overhyped

Stenotrophomonas maltophilia
Stenotrophomonas maltophilia can be fatal

Warnings about the emergence of a "new superbug" have been overhyped, say infection control experts.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Health Protection Agency staff say concerns about Stenotrophomonas maltophilia are unfounded.

The bacterium hit the headlines in May after University of Bristol researchers published its genetic code, which it is hoped could lead to better treatments.

It is thought more than 1,000 people in the UK may be infected every year.

There were 671 reports to the Health Protection Agency in England in 2007, but this is likely to be an underestimate and does not include figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A third of infections, which can currently only be treated with one antibiotic, co-trimoxazole, are fatal.

It does cause a significant number of infections - 1% of a big number is still a fairly big number
Dr Matthew Avison, University of Bristol

Dr Georgia Duckworth and Alan Johnson from the HPA department of healthcare associated infection and antimicrobial resistance said there had been a "flurry of headlines" in the UK warning of the dangers of this "new superbug".

In actuality, they said, S. maltophilia infections are relatively rare compared to infections caused by other species of viruses and bacteria such as MRSA or C. difficile.

Also, unlike MRSA and C. difficile, S maltophilia infections is not easily spread and are usually treatable, they added.

Concern

Dr Matthew Avison, who lead the research on the S. maltophilia genome, said he agreed with much of what the HPA experts said but added there were grounds for concern.

"It does cause a significant number of infections - 1% of a big number is still a fairly big number.

"We're worried that what will happen in the UK is what had happened in Europe and South America - that it also becomes resistant to co-trimoxazole and then you won't have any treatment."

Dr Avison added that their research had suggested that even though there are new drugs in development, S. maltophilia has the ability to rapidly become resistant.

Professor Richard James, an expert in healthcare-associated infections at the University of Nottingham, said the bacterium has the capacity to become a "superbug".

"An integrated strategy of policies is required in hospitals to prevent the transmission of all healthcare-associated infections.

"This will bring significant reductions in C. difficile and MRSA but will also control the emerging infections like S. maltophilia."


SEE ALSO
Warning over hospital infection
07 May 08 |  Health

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