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Superbug screening ‘would reduce deaths’

Experts say it would help fight against MRSA


Screening people for MRSA before they have a hospital operation would make a ‘significant difference’ to the numbers dying from the superbug, experts have said.

Professor Richard James, Director of the Centre for Healthcare Associated Infections at the University of Nottingham, said screening people and then isolating them until their MRSA status was known would have a dramatic effect on infection rates.

At present, around 40 per cent of staphylococcus infections in blood are MRSA, meaning they are resistant to the antibiotic methicillin.

But with screening and then isolation, that figure would drop to less than 1 per cent within six years, he said.

Antibiotic resistance

The combined effect of being able to cut the numbers carrying the bug and isolating potentially infected patients ‘would make a significant difference to the number of people infected and the number who die,’ he added.

Almost a quarter of hospital-acquired infections are MRSA. Figures show that 7 to 8 per cent of patients are thought to carry the hospital superbug, risking infecting other people.

They also show that 1.28 per cent of all patients in hospital end up infected with MRSA.

In 2006, the Department of Health published a ‘best practice’ guideline for NHS trusts on tackling MRSA.

Universal screening

It said the ‘logical conclusion’ was that the best approach for reducing the numbers carrying MRSA was the ‘universal screening of all admissions to hospital’.

Prof James pointed out that the guidance is not binding on NHS trusts, who can decide themselves whether to implement universal screening.

‘If you don’t screen people coming in, we don’t know which patients have MRSA on admission,’ he added.

He put forward the case for rapid MRSA testing, with results available in just a few hours rather than weeks and said the tests also provide information on 84 of the genes in MRSA rather than just two.

Hospital infections

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: ‘Tackling health care acquired infections (HCAIs) is a top priority for the government and the health service.

‘Although MRSA numbers have declined for the past two years, we are not complacent and any avoidable infection is one too many.

‘The Department of Health has issued guidance that draws together best practice for the NHS on screening and decolonising high risk groups of patients to reduce MRSA, as part of the government’s ongoing commitment to tackle HCAIs.’

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