Superbugs Remain A Menace

Superbugs Remain A Menace
The war against the superbugs MRSA and Clostridium difficile is far from over. Figures show there is a long way to go in the battle against hospital infections.
A report by the Healthcare Commission of UK investigating the hospital-acquired infections suggests that a lot of trusts are wanting in this area.

For several years now, this issue has been one of the top priorities in the health service. Scientists across the UK are looking at new ways of tackling the problem.

Some hospitals like Northwick Park hospital in north London have developed innovative ways to address the menace.

Northwick Park has the usual assortment of weapons in the battle to stem MRSA, C. difficile and others, which include alcohol gel rubs, hand washing sinks dotted around, and an overall emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness.

In addition is a new device being deployed in strategic spots across the hospital. It looks like a small air conditioner unit, drawing in air and funneling it past ultraviolet bulbs, which kill bacteria that have been shaken around the room by the normal comings and goings of patients and staff.

Dr Peder Nielsen, the man in charge of infection control believes this ultra-violet air-cleansing unit opens up an important new front in the battle with MRSA.

Dr Nielsen has been working on a study – to be published, looking at the impact of these units on environmental MRSA. He says the results were outstanding. "The great idea here is that you have an instant isolation room whenever you need it.

"You just take it, you wheel it into the room where it is needed, and then you have an isolation room”, he points out.

Yet, some experts are skeptical about the idea. They are unconvinced about how readily MRSA can be passed on through the air.

The Department of Health has a rapid review panel, which over the last three years has looked at getting on for 200 new products to tackle infections - including this one.

The department's chief microbiologist, Professor Brian Duerden, says it is important to keep an open mind.

"I hope we're not missing a trick but there's always more that we can do.

"And we can't ignore the fact that these organisms get out into the environment and can be transmitted to patients.

"So we do need to have surfaces that are readily cleaned, we have to have agents for use in the cleaning, we have to look at the air from the point of view of decontamination."

Obviously it is very early days with this device, yet that does not dampen Dr Nielsen’s excitement. He believes its potential can extend to combating not just MRSA, but also other infections including C. difficile, drug-resistant TB and even pandemic flu.

In the meanwhile, scientists have built a compelling genetic picture of how lethal superbug MRSA changed day-by-day to subdue a heart patient. It shows how the organism mutated to beat even the most powerful antibiotics used by doctors fighting to save the patient, kept anonymous.

His plight is recorded by New York's Rockefeller University, and featured in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists hope it will improve understanding of how bacteria adapt and survive.

Recent years have seen the emergence of bacteria which have developed partial resistance even to very powerful drugs such as vancomycin, traditionally held back to use as a last resort.

The precise mechanisms by which bacteria adapt to survive antibiotic attack are not completely clear, although the more often that bacteria are exposed to a particular drug, the more likely it is that it will, by chance, come up with a killer genetic formula.

This is precisely why the overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is blamed, in part at least, for the rise of MRSA.


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