The global health threat posed by resistant staphylococcal infections, also known as MRSA superbugs, was discussed at a summit of 350 international microbiologists in Cairns on Saturday.
The experts said that the concern was mainly because of a new virulent form of the flesh-eating bug that can lead to a severe form of pneumonia, which causes death in up to 50 per cent of cases.
Unlike hospital-acquired MRSA that affects mostly elderly patients, according to them, the community strain of the bug carries far more toxic genes and can be picked up in communal settings.
The participants at the conference also pointed out that similar bugs have already claimed the lives of several teenagers in the U.S., prompting the authorities to shut and disinfect schools.
They said that the bug was on the rise in Australia.
"We're looking at a major epidemic. These are much more virulent strains of these bugs ... We're seeing more people coming to our emergency departments, more people admitted with more severe infections and we're seeing people die. It's happening right across Australia," theage.com.au quoted Associate Professor Keryn Christiansen, director of microbiology at Royal Perth Hospital and co-ordinator of the conference, as saying.
She said that though strict hand-washing policies had helped reduce the number of hospital-acquired MRSA cases to a certain extent, infection still occurred in Victoria.
She fears that an outbreak of the new community-acquired version, combined with the hospital variety, may be catastrophic.
The bugs are usually transmitted through contact with an open wound, and can be passed from person to person or due to contact with contaminated surfaces.
Potential strategies to fight the bug include a "search and destroy" policy as adopted in Western Australia, where every case of MRSA must be reported to the state's health department. Scientists then screen people who have had contact with the infected patient and attempt to eradicate the bug.
The experts at the summit also called for better monitoring of superbugs and Federal Government funding to educate doctors on spotting them.