Bug in your keyboard that can kill
THE deadly MRSA superbug can survive in hospitals for longer than previously thought, lurking on false fingernails and computers for weeks, according to new research by scientists in America.
A study found that strains of the bug could survive for up to eight weeks, and the researchers, of the Minnesota-based Ecolab, said this emphasised the need for frequent hand-washing and disinfection of hospitals.
A British expert in combating MRSA added that hospitals should adopt food industry-style regulations, which prevent staff from wearing false fingernails, jewellery and other potential breeding grounds for infection.
The Scottish Conservatives yesterday called for action from the health minister, Andy Kerr, who has announced a 15 million programme to tackle hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA and fund further research into the issue.
Kris Owens, one of the Ecolab scientists, who presented their findings to the American Society for Microbiology's general meeting yesterday, said: "The potential of MRSA to be transferred from person to person, in large part depends on its ability to survive on environmental surfaces."
For the study, two strains of MRSA were inoculated on to bed linen, keyboard covers and acrylic fingernails. When these were tested periodically, it was found that the bugs remained at detectable levels for eight weeks on acrylic fingernails, six weeks on keyboard covers and five days on bed linen.
"The results of this study clearly demonstrate the need for frequent hand-washing and environmental disinfection in healthcare settings," said Mr Owens.
MRSA is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections and is difficult to treat because it consists of bacteria that have become resistant to normal antibiotics. They can cause potentially fatal wound infections, pneumonia and blood infections.
Last month it emerged that the Edinburgh-born pop star Edwyn Collins had contracted the superbug while recovering from brain surgery at a hospital in London, while comedian Rikki Fulton died as a result of MRSA. The bug has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of people a year and has also forced the closure of hospital wards where poor hygiene has allowed it to spread.
Dr Chris Malyszewicz, a microbiologist whose company, Chemical Solutions Consultancy, advises on how to get rid of MRSA and other bugs, said Ecolab's findings were a further reason for major reforms in the health service.
"Under the fingernails you can have growths of [MRSA]. You cannot see it and cannot feel it, but a nurse or a cleaner could be carrying it," he said.
Dr Malyszewicz said the food industry was "very, very careful" about hand-washing and stopping people wearing jewellery, including false nails. "It is very tough on this, but there is a massive difference in the regulations. It's unbelievable how far we go in the food sector compared to the health service."
The Scottish Conservatives' health spokeswoman, Dr Nanette Milne, said the research showed just how difficult it was to tackle hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), such as MRSA. "I hope these findings will be brought to the immediate attention of health professionals so they can consider whether a new response and a new set of protective measures are needed," she said. "I will make sure that this is brought to the attention of the health minister so he, in turn, can be in touch with the health boards."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said that it had already announced action to counter HAIs and was currently awaiting the results of a further study into the problem.
"As part of the 15 million programme to drive down hospital-associated infection, we have commissioned new research - the most advanced in Europe," he said. "This will enable more effective control measures and monitoring of progress.
"The research will be carried out by Health Protection Scotland in a national prevalence survey to find out the full extent and types of infection problems in Scottish hospitals [including MRSA]," the spokesman added. "This will cost an estimated 560,000 over two years."
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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