Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are one of the most pressing issues facing our health services today. According to the Department of Health one in ten patients acquires a HAI, and those who do contract an infection stay in hospital nearly three times longer than ordinary patients, placing tremendous financial pressure on our already strapped-for-cash health services.
The two hospital acquired infections, known as 'superbugs', posing a particularly serious threat to our hospital wards are MRSA and C. difficile. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus and is a form of bacteria from the Staphylococcus aureus (SA) family. If SA bacteria get into the body via cuts or wounds they can cause symptoms of MRSA infection such as a boil or abscess, and more seriously blood poisoning or a heart-valve infection. Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium from the Clostridium family causing diarrhoea, and in more serious cases damage to the colon and intestines.
Many experts believe that the misuse of antibiotics has caused the drug-resistant SA infections to occur (if a course of treatment is not finished some of the bacteria can multiply and survive a range of antibiotics) and the high turnover of patients and high bed occupancy rates in our health services compound the problem. Indeed, the Health Protection Agency believes that reducing bed occupancy in NHS hospitals to 85%, or lower, is a crucial move to reduce the incidence of HAIs, but it is a Catch-22 situation as it is difficult to eliminate the superbugs with such a high volume of patients.