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Drug-Resistant Germs

Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 29 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the dangers posed by the drug-resistant germ methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteria, its estimated incidence at present and expected future incidence; what estimates he has made of the likelihood of an epidemic of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus; what efforts and expenditure are being devoted to combating it; and if guidelines are being issued to discourage constant use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

I refer the hon. Member to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) at columns 230–1 on 11 March, in which the measures being taken to combat staphylococcus aureus were described. Staphylococcus aureus is a pathogenic micro-organism which can cause skin infections, abscesses, osteomyelitis or other infections. At least one third of healthy people are carriers of some strain of staphylococcus aureus. There are now some strains of staphylococcus aureus which have become resistant to antibiotics; MRSA, the methicillin resistant strain, is an example. Outbreaks of MRSA appear to occur only in hospitals, where it can be a cause of post-operative wound infections.In 1986, MRSA was reported by 170 hospitals participating in a national survey. The survey shows that 1,891 cases of MRSA were reported from England, Wales and the Channel Islands in the last nine months of 1986. Two thirds of these cases were from the Thames regions. Particular strains which spread more easily than others and have therefore been described by the term "epidemic MRSA" account for much of the incidence in the Thames regions.It is not possible to forecast the future incidence of spread of MRSA. In some hospitals, outbreaks have been restricted and MRSA eradicated.Doctors have been advised to avoid the constant use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Articles in the medical press and in prescribers' journals have taken a similar line.I am placing an updated fact sheet on MRSA in the Library.