29 Apr 2013

Cases of superbug infections rise

10:24 pm on 29 April 2013

Cases of infection with the superbug MRSA have doubled and more Maori and Pacific people are affected, a study has found.

Environmental Science and Research examined data collected from its annual reports between 2005 and 2011 and hospital admission records.

The figures reveal the number of people with MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) has increased from eight or nine to 18 per 100,000.

When MRSA first occurred some 20 years ago it was known as a hospital bug, but the study shows it is now more likely to infect people in the community.

The bug has become resistant to many antibiotics commonly used to treat infections.

ESR scientist Helen Heffernan says Maori and Pacific Island people are significantly more likely to acquire the infection, possibly due to social and economic inequalities.

In 2011, the report said that 46 in 100,000 Pacific people and 40 per 100,000 Maori contracted the bacterial infection. In contrast, just 10 Europeans per 100,000 were affected.

Ms Heffernan says symptoms associated with MRSA are often skin and soft tissue infections such as boils, abcesses, cellulitis and eczema infections.

The Ministry of Health's chief medical officer says it will look closely at whether more research funding is required.

Don Mackie says MRSA is more than just a health issue and the ministry is working with other agencies to see how the bug can be stopped from spreading in communities most affected.

Stephen Ritchie, an infectious disease specialist at Auckland City Hospital, says the statistics understate the true extent of the problem and much more research is needed.