'Health club' superbug claims 100 victims

One hundred cases of Community-Acquired MRSA, a new variety of the superbug that infects people with no connection to a hospital, have been identified in Britain, The Telegraph has learned.

Warning of the potential severity of CA-MRSA, experts said one 28-year-old woman had died.

CA-MRSA causes skin infections that show up as boils, abscesses and inflammation. It can also cause joint infections and bacteria in the blood. In rare cases it leads to a lethal type of pneumonia. It is found in communal changing areas such as those in sports centres and health clubs. The 28-year-old died from pneumonia. No other details of her case were available.

Dr Angela Kearns, the head of the Staphylococcus reference laboratory at the Health Protection Agency in north London, said that the kinds of boils CA-MRSA could cause "can be quite severe infections which may need hospitalisation and drainage".

Doctors were sending the agency isolated examples they had taken from infections that were not responding to usual treatments such as the penicillin class of antiobiotics, she said.

A wide spectrum of other antiobiotics could be used.

Problems arose when doctors tried using penicillin and were unsuccessful, by which time the infection had spread to other parts of the body.

"In a handful of cases we have seen [the infections] passed between members of the same family," Dr Kearns said. Infection is usually by skin to skin contact and happens when the skin has been grazed.

Asked whether the public should be alarmed, she said: "In view of the small number of cases, it is difficult to say we should be alarmed but it is one of those situations where we need to remain vigilant.''

Worldwide, infections with MRSA are increasingly community-acquired and increasingly prevalent among young, otherwise healthy, adults.

Initially MRSA – Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – was a problem affecting hospitals and nursing homes, due primarily to lack of hygiene.

It was concentrated among the elderly who have weaker immune systems. Last week, it emerged that deaths caused by MRSA in British hospitals have doubled in four years to almost 1,000 a year.

But beginning in the early 1980s, cases of community-acquired MRSA were reported in the United States, primarily in people with a history of injecting drugs.

Then, between December 2002 and June 2003, four cases of MRSA skin infections without previous hospitalisation were recorded in different areas of Germany.

One was a child in an Arab family living in Germany, another was a child in a Greek family living in Germany. The third sufferer, a woman, had acquired her infection in Russia. The fourth, also a woman, divided her time between Egypt and Germany and had multiple skin abscesses.

CA-MRSA has now spread throughout North America. It has caused outbreaks of skin infections in the community and among prison inmates, sports teams and military units. It has also been reported in Australia although the strain is different from the North American one.

In 2002, a French study described 14 cases including two fatal cases of pneumonia. Six of the patients lived in Lyon, two in Algeria and the rest in other French cities. Dr Kearns said the examples sent to them by doctors in Britain were not the "epidemic" types of community strains infecting large groups of people in the US.

Dr Mark Enright, a senior research fellow at the University of Bath's department of biology and biochemistry, said: "MRSA is becoming a significant danger outside healthcare settings and it is spreading.

"These bugs are pandemic. It is more of a future threat in Britain than a current one, but they are taking it very seriously in the United States.
This is seriously bad news because MRSA (antibiotic resistant strain of staph aureus) has taken a step outside the hosptial environment and can now be found anywhere that humans live. The normal version is found in or on about 50% of the population (noramlly on the skin or up the nose). Now that it has left the hospital environment, we need to keep a real close watch for this spreading. Best course of action is to keep to a regimented cleaning schedule, regular dusting, mopping, washing hands after blowing or picking nose etc.

Best we close those few military gyms that we have. Or, have we known about this for a long time and in order to protect our soldiers we equip the gyms so poorly that we do not encourage their use. For example look how well the Skool of Grunts look after their own mob in Warminster - certainly would not encourage over use of the facilities and therfore saves us from contracting the super bug. Good decision or is it!!! :(

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