Drug-resistant staph infections have escaped from Australia's hospitals

Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Drug-resistant staph infections have spread from Australia’s hospitals, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The study shows more staph infections resistant to antibiotics are now occurring in the community rather than in hospitals.

A staph infection, which can spread with skin to skin contact, is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria invading the body, usually resulting in skin infections such as boils.

However, there were more than 2,300 cases of severe staph infections — where the bacteria gets into the bloodstream causing potentially deadly sepsis — in Australia in 2015.

Lead researcher Dr Jason Agostino from the ANU Medical School says about 60% of drug-resistant staph infections are now picked up in the community.

“The problem of infections resistant to antibiotics in our community is not just a theoretical problem that will happen some time in the future — it’s happening right now,” says Dr Agostino.

The researchers used national data from previous studies and pathology results from about 40,000 patients in the Hunter New England Local Health District from 2008 to 2014.

Until the early 2000s in Australia, staph infections resistant to antibiotics mostly occurred in hospitals.

The researchers found hospital infection rates are improving, with decreased infections in two of the region’s largest hospitals.

“It’s great to see a drop in drug-resistant staph infections in hospitals, but we need to develop more targeted use of antibiotics in the community,” says Dr Agostino.

Patients most at risk of the drug-resistant staph infection in the community are young people, indigenous Australians and residents of aged-care facilities.

“We also need to improve the way we share data on antibiotic resistance to staph infections and link this to hospitalisation across health systems,” Dr Agostino said.

ANU conducted the research with John Hunter Hospital, the University of Newcastle, NSW Health Pathology and Hunter New England Health.

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