Hospital zeroes in on superbugs

Rise of the superbugs: Narelle Dean is St George Private Hospital's infectious diseases expert.
Rise of the superbugs: Narelle Dean is St George Private Hospital's infectious diseases expert.

MOST travel insurance policies won't cover you for high-risk activities such as solo skydiving, steeplechasing or the Running of the Bulls in Spain.

But most Australians underestimate the potentially deadly effects a simple scrape on the knee or consuming a glass of contaminated water can have in countries where multi-drug-resistant superbugs are prevalent.

St George Private Hospital's infectious diseases expert Narelle Dean said Australians were more often returning from overseas with superbug infections, prompting countries to get serious about the appropriate use of antibiotics.

"Sometimes when people travel, they get on motorbikes and do all sorts of adventurous things . . . and then the next thing they are fighting an infection," Ms Dean said.

Infections caused by resistant micro-organisms often fail to respond to the standard treatment, resulting in prolonged illness and greater risk of death.

The death rate for patients with serious infections treated in hospitals is about twice that in patients with infections caused by non-resistant bacteria, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states.

"There's been a dramatic rise in the number of people who are either infected or are a carrier of a antimicrobial-resistant bug.

"There's not enough cash going into the research area of antibiotics and unless everybody looks at what their responsibility is in anti-microbial stewardship we're going to lose the battle."

She said the number of St George Private Hospital patients who caught superbugs while in the hospital was low.

"It doesn't change the fact we are spending a fortune every day on managing people who are on precautions."

The WHO warned that the world may be entering a post-antibiotic era where so-called "wonder drugs" may no longer be useful in battling superbugs.

Ms Dean said that in as little as 10 to 20 years many of the existing antibiotic drugs may not work for common bacterial infections, taking the world back to the pre-antibiotic days for many infections.

Already in Asia there are many bacteria resistant to all antibiotics.

Ms Dean said better testing of infections was crucial for ensuring patients received the correct narrow-spectrum antibiotic.

The hospital last night (Wednesday) held a forum for GPs to consider their management in the rise of superbugs.

Ms Dean said patients often put pressure on GPs to prescribe "a packet of pills" even if paracetamol, rest and fluids was a better treatment.

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