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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

MRSA spread from city to regional hospitals tracked with genetic tags

21 May 2012

By James Brooks

Appeared in BioNews 657

The emergence and spread of MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) in the UK has been tracked thanks to genetic analysis of samples taken from infected patients over a 53-year period.

The study, published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), suggests that hospitals in large cities act as breeding grounds for new, increasingly resistant variants of the superbug. Patients then carry these new MRSA strains to regional centres when they are transferred.

Lead researcher Dr Ross Fitzgerald, of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said that 'the high levels of patient traffic in large hospitals mean they act as a hub for transmission between patients'. This scenario had previously been suggested to explain the spread of the bacteria but, Dr Fitzgerald told the BBC, 'this is the first time we have had genetic evidence for it'.

The study centred on EMRSA-16, the commonest type of MRSA in the UK, which emerged 35 years ago and only occurs in hospitals. By identifying mutations in the various samples scientists were able to trace the spread of the disease around the country.

In London new variants spread from the larger, central hospitals to centres in the south of the UK while Glasgow was identified as a hub for disease transmission to the north and east of Scotland.

Paul McAdam, the first author on the paper, and a PhD student at the Roslin Institute, said that the study 'could help in finding ways to prevent the spread of infection'. Currently screening and treating patients for MRSA is not universal practice across the NHS although all hospital patients scheduled for a procedure are offered a simple swab test.

The Daily Mail highlighted a recent report in the British Medical Journal which revealed a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of MRSA since a peak in reported cases a decade ago. The initiative encouraging healthcare workers to wash their hands between patient consultations 'had saved more lives than any medical development for a generation', the newspaper said.



30 September 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
DNA sequencing of Clostridium difficile samples reveals that the dangerous bacteria, which was previously predominantly transmitted in hospital, is now mostly being caught outside... [Read More]
19 November 2012 - by Emma Stoye 
Genetic sequencing has been used to track and halt an outbreak of MRSA at an NHS hospital in Cambridge.... [Read More]
28 August 2012 - by Holly Rogers 
An outbreak of a drug-resistant bacterial bug, which killed six people and infected 11 more, was stopped partially thanks to genome sequencing, a paper in Science Translational Medicine reports... [Read More]
23 July 2012 - by George Frodsham 
Genetically modified bacteria may be a new weapon in the fight against malaria. Researchers have altered the genome of a bacterium that lives in mosquitos' guts so that it secretes proteins that are toxic to the malaria parasite... [Read More]

30 April 2012 - by Victoria Burchell 
A gene identified in MRSA may contribute to the spread and virulence of the superbug. The gene - sasX - is located in a segment of DNA called a mobile genetic element and is capable of jumping from one bacterium to another... [Read More]
13 June 2011 - by Dr Gabrielle Samuel 
A group of British and Danish scientists has identified a new strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which has been found in cows and their milk. The new strain is also known to have infected 27 people in the UK and 24 in Denmark... [Read More]
25 January 2010 - by Heidi Colleran 
For the first time, a Cambridge-led team of scientists has succeeded in tracking the evolution and transmission of methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) across the world, offering the possibility of affordable tests to identify and block fatal superbugs before they spread. The breakthrough, led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (WTSI) in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, UK, and published in the journal Science, means that researchers and public health officials may be better able to... [Read More]
10 January 2010 - by Sarah Guy 
Researchers in the UK working toward a new initiative in the battle against so-called hospital 'superbugs' are developing a database containing the DNA of germs such as MRSA and clostridium difficile, to attempt to track and identify the source of disease.... [Read More]
23 April 2001 - by BioNews 
Scientists have announced that hospital 'superbugs', bacteria resistant to antibiotics, have been dealt a blow by the decoding of the genomes of two of the most feared of the bugs. Japanese researchers from Juntendo University in Tokyo have decoded the DNA sequence of two antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria staphylococcus... [Read More]

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