UK MRSA problem caused by contagious 'clones'

The MRSA epidemic plaguing Britain's hospitals may be due to extremely transmissible contagious clones of the superbug, a scientist has claimed.

Dr Mark Enright, from the University of Bath, also said that better hospital hygiene would not be enough to prevent the spread of the infection.

In an article published in this month's edition of 'Microbiology Today', Dr Enright, an expert on the evolution and epidemiology of MRSA, said that the increase of infections in the UK coincided with the appearance of two clones, called UK Epidemic MRSA clone-15 and clone-16. These clones, Dr Enright said, were uncommon elsewhere in the world, and this could explain why MRSA infections had increased in Britain.

Dr Enright said that these clones were more contagious than other strains of the infection and claimed that the only way to stop the epidemic was by using proven measures, such as patient isolation.

Dr Enright said that there was little scientific evidence to prove that there were less MRSA infections in clean hospitals. He said: "Better hand hygiene will have some effect, but only a radical measure, such as isolating all patients with particularly transmissible MRSA strains, would really solve the problem."

MRSA mainly causes invasive disease following infection of tissues around devices placed in the body, such as venous catheters. Drugs that suppress patients' immune systems, such as those taken by kidney transplant patients, may also enable MRSA to take hold, Dr Enright said.

However, he admitted: "we simply don't know how MRSA comes into a hospital, colonises staff and patients and then causes serious disease."

Figures published in July 2004 showed that MRSA infections in England had increased by 3.6% in the last year.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Paul Burstow said that Dr Enright's research showed that the government needed to make infection control "a top priority". He said: "There is a shortage of isolation facilities in the NHS. Despite repeated questioning, Ministers haven't got a clue how many isolation facilities there are, let alone what plans there are to add more. Simply promoting hand washing is clearly not enough. More screening and isolation, when necessary, should all be considered as weapons in the fight against the superbugs."

In November, Health Secretary, John Reid announced plans to reduce the number of MRSA infections by half by 2008.

Recent government initiatives to try to stop the spread of the infection include the installation of alcohol rubs at every staff patient contact point; the launch of the Matron's Charter; and the appointment of Chief Nursing Officer, Chris Beasley, to oversee cleanliness and hygiene in hospitals.

As part of these initiatives, over one million NHS employees will receive additional training in infection control measures.


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