Page last updated at 05:00 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 06:00 UK

Fears voiced over new superbugs

PVL-MRSA is not the only bug concerning doctors

A leading microbiologist says he fears a major outbreak of new strains of community superbugs unless public monitoring is given more resources.

Professor Hugh Pennington told the BBC the Health Protection Agency lacked the staff for the greater surveillance of such virulent and mutating bacteria.

"If we do neglect these bugs, we neglect them at our peril," he said.

The government's leading infection adviser said he was assured its monitors could cope with the workload.

Concerns are growing among microbiologists about PVL (Panton-Valentine leukocidin), produced by some bacteria from the family Staphylococcus and which destroys white blood cells.

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Unlike hospital-acquired MRSA, which mainly affects older people and those who are vulnerable, it strikes children and people under 40 who are otherwise fit and healthy.

Transmitted by close contact, at its worst it can lead to blood poisoning, necrotising (flesh-eating) infections and a severe type of pneumonia, which is often fatal.

Animal strain

But PVL-MRSA is not the only strain worrying doctors as earlier this year Scotland had its first case of community MRSA which was transmitted from animals to humans.

Three patients in Glasgow were found to be carrying the animal strain which has become widespread in other parts of Europe.

Senior microbiologists say greater monitoring is needed to ensure that these new strains do not get a foothold in the general population.

The Health Protection Agency is charged with co-ordinating health protection across the UK, with its English-based centre for infections liaising closely with its equivalent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Yet microbiologists such as Prof Pennington fear these experts need more resources.

He told BBC Radio 4's File On 4: "The scandal here is that we know what to do, the technology's there to spot these things as they're appearing and we know how to react to them.

'Priority infections'

"It would be quite wrong if we allow these things to develop."

However, Professor Brian Duerdan, the government's inspector of infection control in England and Wales, told the BBC these infections were getting priority attention.

"There is an urgency for people to recognise this is occurring in the community," he said.

"We do know that it spreads in the community amongst close contacts, families, people who share the same sporting events."

He added that clinicians were always concerned "have we got enough capacity" to monitor these kind of infections.

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