Keeping tabs on infection

MEDICAL authorities say that as many as one in five people carry the ‘‘golden staph’’ bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, on their skin or in their nasal passages with no observable effects.

But under certain conditions, the various strains of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are responsible for a bewildering array of illnesses. Some are minor but others, including meningitis, endocarditis and sepsis, are potentially life-threatening.

Just as worryingly, Staphylococcus aureus has proved highly adaptable to the penicillin-based antibiotics that have been the health system’s main weapon against it.

This adaptability, combined with over-prescribing of antibiotics, has helped give rise to a virulent class of ‘‘superbug’’ known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA.

Hunter New England Health figures for the year to April show MRSA infections in the region’s hospitals are up by more than 20per cent on the same period last year. MRSA cases contracted in hospitals are generally caused by different strains to those responsible for ‘‘community-acquired’’ MRSA cases. But an increase in the number of golden staph admissions being treated in hospital emergency wards is acknowledged as a sign that the community strains of MRSA are also on the increase.

High MRSA infection rates in NSW hospitals in the early 2000s led to a high-profile ‘‘hand-washing’’ hygiene campaign that appeared to achieve results. Unfortunately, however, the latest Hunter hospital infection rates appear noticeably higher than they were after the campaign, despite health officials saying that hand-washing targets are being met.

While hospital hygiene is clearly a factor in some MRSA cases, doctors say the public has a role to play in accepting that antibiotics are not always the answer to every minor ailment.

Doctors who over-prescribe antibiotics – and patients who demand them regardless of their efficacy – are not only costing the public health system for unnecessary treatment. They are contributing, even if unwittingly, to a long chain of cause and effect that could lead, as the World Health Organisation has recently warned, to a potential return to the pre-antibiotic era if bacterial resistance to antibiotics continues unchecked. And that’s a scenario that none of us would want to experience.

Thomson speech

DOBELL MP Craig Thomson had his day in Parliament yesterday to convince the public he was ‘‘set up’’ by his enemies in the Health Services Union.

While his declaration of innocence was strong and emotionally charged it is unlikely he achieved his aim of convincing people he has been the subject of an extensive conspiracy.

Many believe that the allegations against him should be tested in a court of law. The sooner this occurs the sooner this sorry affair can be brought to its conclusion. In the meantime, a parliament hanging on a veritable knife-edge will continue to be inherently unstable.

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