Rise of superbugs puts lives at risk
Dangerous superbugs which had previously only been found in hospitals are spreading throughout the community, putting lives at risk.
The state and federal governments are so concerned by the rise in infections they have commissioned an expert group to try to stop the spread, Fairfax has learnt.
Chairman of the Australian Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, John Turnidge, said the Antimicrobial Resistance Subcommittee would report its findings to state and federal health ministers.
''People in a position with the authority to make changes are now saying we have got to make changes,'' he said.
The group has published a survey of 30 hospitals treating outpatients for infections, which found a ''worrying trend'' of E.coli and Klebsiella species that produce enzymes which make them resistant to some of our most powerful antibiotics.
E.coli is an extremely common bacteria found in humans and our pets and other mammals.
It can cause urinary tract and post-operative wound infections, and is often the cause of severe blood poisoning.
''These strands of E.coli are carrying a form of resistance which we never wanted to see in the community, and that is resistance to our hospital drugs,'' Professor Turnidge said.
''We have gone from virtually none of these kinds of resistance in the year 2000 to now, where it's commonplace.''
The superbugs are a particular threat because they require expensive hospital treatment, and the use of last-line antibiotics which need to be used sparingly, to ensure bugs don't develop which are even resistant to them.
''The more we use them, the more resistance we are going to see,'' Professor Turnidge said. ''It's kind of a vicious circle.''
He said Sydney had a noticeably higher rate of superbugs than other cities, although the overall differences between the states was small.
Antibiotic overuse was probably the driver of the superbug spread, with rates of use here still double that of best-practice countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden.
A study released this month by the National Prescribing Service found most Australians are confused about when they should take antibiotics and how they work.
''The high level of antibiotic use in the community is fuelling the carriage of these [resistant strains] to a … level that didn't exist before,'' Professor Turnidge said.
Once the superbugs had started to develop, it was hard to stop their spread, particularly in the community where techniques developed for hospitals did not work.
''It's such a widespread bug that it probably gets around in millions more ways than we understand,'' he said.