Doctors: Australia's Hospitals Have Been Hit By Infections From Overseas And Isolation Is No Longer A Protection

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A two year study into 450 hospitals in Australia has uncovered widespread incidence of virulent infections brought into Australia from overseas, the Medical Journal of Australia reports.

Professor Paul Johnson and Associate Professor Rhonda Stuart write in the journal that Australia’s geographical isolation may have allowed it to dodge virulent diseases in the past.

“Times have changed; the tyranny of distance is now just a line in a Split Enz song,” the authors write.
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“We have email, mobile phones and Twitter; people and perishable goods arrive every hour from everywhere. From the public health perspective, there is less chance now of keeping emerging pathogens out of Australia, particularly if they are carried in the gastrointestinal tracts of healthy travellers returning from overseas.”

The incidence of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), which causes severe diarrhoea, toxic megacolon and even death, has been documented nationally for the first time in a study.

The incidence of this infection has increased dramatically around the world over the past 10 years, with one strain, ribotype 027, being particularly devastating.

This strain was first identified in Australia in 2009 in a woman in Perth who acquired it overseas. The following year, a Melbourne patient who had not been overseas tested positive, representing the first locally acquired case.

However, this strain has not so far caused major problems in Australian hospitals.

The study, led by Associate Professor Claudia Slimings and Professor Thomas Riley from The University of Western Australia’s School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, is the first national collation of surveillance data on CDI.

The two-year survey looked at data from 450 public hospitals, covering 92% of patient-days in Australian acute public hospitals. A total of 12,683 cases of the infection were identified.

The annual incidence rose by 24% from 3.25 per 10 000 patient-days in 2011 to 4.03 in 2012, but stabilised in the second year of the study.

The annual incidence of infections acquired in hospital increased 18%, and those acquired in the community climbed 24% over the course of the survey.

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