The superbug MRSA spreads from large city hospitals to smaller local hospitals by patient transfer, according to a study published in the journal PNAS.
MRSA is a type of bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of antibiotics. It is commonly spread by skin-to-skin contact with someone who has an MRSA infection or carries the bacteria.
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A team of scientists at Edinburgh University has now discovered that large city hospitals are the breeding grounds of MRSA, which is then spread to other hospitals as patients are transferred.
The University of Edinburgh looked at the genetic make-up of more than 80 variants of a major clone of MRSA found in hospitals, which were collected from patients over half a century.
The clone of MRSA, called EMRSA-16, only occurs in hospital settings and has been present in UK wards for 35 years. Scientists identified genetic elements of EMRSA-16 which allowed them to track the superbug’s movements.
In London, the bacteria spread from large city hospitals to smaller surrounding hospitals in the south and south-east regions of England. After starting in the city of Glasgow, it also spread to regions in the north and east of Scotland. Lead researcher Dr Ross Fitzgerald, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said:
"The high levels of patient traffic in large hospitals means they act as a hub for transmission between patients, who may then be transferred or treated in regional hospitals."
"This is the first time we have had genetic evidence for it. And if we can identify the transmission routes we can take steps to prevent spread."
Experts hope that patients could be screened and treated for MRSA before transfer from one hospital to another, helping prevent the spread of drug resistant infections.
More work is now needed on a larger number of samples to see if this is repeated around the UK.
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