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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Hospital infections under microscope
Hospital waste bin
Good hygiene is crucial in keeping the bug at bay
Figures indicating the number of patients who contracted a "superbug" in Scottish hospitals have been published for the first time.

The Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) has compared the number of people who contracted the bug MRSA in 18 acute hospital trusts.

The worst rates were found in hospitals in Fife, Lothian and Tayside.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a new generation of bacterial infection that is particularly resistant to antibiotics.

Superbug infections in trusts
Up to a third of people carry the Staphylococcus aureus (SA) bacteria
MRSA is a strain of the SA bacterial infection which is resistant to antibiotics
Data collected from 18 acute hospital trusts across Scotland showed the incidence rate of MRSA blood infections ranged from zero to 0.25 infections per 1,000 bed days
The lowest rate was found at Glasgow's Yorkhill children's hospital
The highest rates of MRSA were at hospitals in Fife, Lothian and Tayside
It can cause severe infections and is primarily transmitted by contact, so hospital hygiene is essential to keep the bug at bay.

The new figures compare the rates of infection at 18 hospital trusts which carry out emergency operations and run the greatest risk of MRSA infection.

The lowest rate was found at Glasgow's Yorkhill children's hospital and the highest rates were at hospitals in Fife, Lothian and Tayside.

However, the report's authors said the figures should be treated with caution.

Patients may have moved between hospitals and some hospitals carry out higher risk procedures.

Improved surveillance

The research team leader, Dr Ahilya Noon, said: "It is very likely that the hospitals with the highest rates are the hospitals which treat the most vulnerable patients

"These hospitals, one would expect, would actually be at a higher level than others which don't have such vulnerable patients."

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm welcomed the figures as a "benchmark" in efforts to tackle the MRSA problem.

He said the report will be supplemented next year by figures on other serious healthcare-associated infections.

Improved arrangements for surveillance are part of a range of measures now under way to combat such infections and drive up standards of patient care through the country, Mr Chisholm said.

He said the specific risk from MRSA was "small".

Hospital trolleys
The study looked at 18 hospital trusts
At the highest rate 100 patients would have each have to spend at least 40 days in hospital before one of them was likely to develop a MRSA blood infection, he said.

Patients who are already seriously ill, very young or very old are most at risk.

MRSA is part of a group of bacteria found in the noses of up to a third of healthy people.

However, one particular strain has become resistant to antibiotics.

If this strain - dubbed a "superbug" - gets into an open wound it can cause severe infections and blood poisoning.

The main defences which hospitals have against the bacteria are hand washing and good hygiene.

Deadly diseases

Poor cleanliness is said to be partly to blame for the fact that almost one in 10 hospital patients will acquire an extra infection.

Scottish Tory health spokeswoman, Mary Scanlon, said she welcomed the publication of the report.

"But we must remember that this is just counting the bugs and has taken nearly three years to achieve following similar moves in England in 1999", she added.

"What matters now is how the Executive acts on this information and tackles the spread of these deadly diseases."

Nicola Sturgeon, spokeswoman for the Scottish National Party, said: "The report's authors have obviously had to work to a brief given to them by the Scottish Executive and the result is figures that are so broad brush they tell nothing about where MRSA is prevalent.

"What is needed are figures that give the level of infection for each specialty in every hospital."

Eleanor Bradford reports
"The bug is particularly resistant to antibiotics"
Health correspondent Eleanor Bradford
"Hygiene is everything."
See also:

14 Mar 02 | Health
UK top of superbug league
17 Feb 00 | Health
NHS bugs 'kill 5,000 a year'
18 Sep 01 | Health
Winning the superbug war
25 May 01 | Health
'Birth of a superbug'
30 Oct 00 | Scotland
Hospitals 'beating the superbugs'
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