British scientists have used genetics to successfully halt an outbreak of hospital superbug MRSA. They hope that the process could become standard practice in NHS and private hospitals in the future.
Antibacterial hand gel can help stop the spread of MRSA in hospitals
MRSA is a bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of antibiotics. Whilst the bug can be carried without health problems, if it breaches the skin it can cause life-threatening infections.
Now, for the first time, scientists have used rapid genetic testing to track and stop an outbreak of MRSA in a hospital.
During a routine screening in Rosie Hospital in Cambridge, MRSA was detected in 12 babies.
Current tests were unable to tell whether they were separate cases or the result of a single outbreak, so researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Sanger Institute compared the genetic code of the MRSA bacteria from each baby to build a sophisticated ‘family tree’.
They found that the bugs were closely related and part of the same outbreak.
After 2 months another case of MRSA appeared. DNA analysis showed it was also part of the same outbreak. The researchers carried out tests on 154 members of staff to identify the carrier, who was then treated to remove the infection.
Writing in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the scientists are now hoping to develop the concept into a simple system that can routinely be used by hospital staff who are not genetics experts.
Professor Sharon Peacock, from Cambridge University, who led the research team, said: “Information on the genome sequence goes into the system and is interpreted, and what comes out the other end is a report to the health care worker.
"It could, for example, determine the species of the bacterium; it could determine antibiotic susceptibility, and it could provide information about what genes are present that are often associated with poor outcomes in patients.”
Professor Ross Fitzgerald, from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said:
"I fully expect this to be rolled out as a standard approach in UK hospitals in the very near future."
MRSA hospital infection rates have fallen significantly in recent years, with the proportion of patients suffering from the bug dropping from 1.8% in 2006 to 0.1%. With medical insurance, you can choose the hospital or ward you wish to be treated on depending on its superbug infection rates.
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