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New superbug coming to a hospital near you -

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New superbug coming to a hospital near you

Meredith Griffiths reported this story on Thursday, February 25, 2010 12:49:00

ELEANOR HALL: An infectious disease specialist is warning that Australia is at risk from a new type
of superbug.

Professor David Paterson says that hospitals in Asia, Europe and the United States have been
struggling to control outbreaks of an infection that has already killing people and he says
Australia needs to be more vigilant, as Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Superbugs are bacteria that have become resistant to multiple, strong,
antibiotics.

Professor David Paterson from the University of Queensland tries to work out how to kill them.

DAVID PATERSON: Most of these superbugs actually just sit on the skin and are not actually causing
any infection. But sometimes in very seriously ill patients who unfortunately are compromised
because of their severe accidents or underlying illnesses, the organisms can get into the blood or
they can cause pneumonia or even meningitis and in that situation if you're already compromised we
know that from the overseas experience, probably 50 per cent of people are going to die.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: This morning at a conference in Sydney sponsored by several large medical
companies, Professor Paterson said that hospitals across several continents have been dealing with
new forms of acinetobacters.

The new types are resistant to all known antibiotics, they've killed patients, and Professor
Paterson is worried the bugs could soon come here.

DAVID PATERSON: What it's likely to be is a traveller who has unfortunately had an accident, has
ended up in an intensive care unit in a hospital that's affected and after a long stay there is
repatriated to Australia and then they would be the most likely to have an organism like this
resistant to everything.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: So in terms of the conditions in hospitals in some of those countries you
mentioned and in terms of the number of Australians that enjoy travelling, could this infection pop
up in an Australian hospital this year?

DAVID PATERSON: It's not out of the question.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Some of the victims of the Bali bombings contracted superbugs in Indonesia
which they brought back to Australia.

Hospitals here were able to manage that outbreak.

Still, Professor Paterson is concerned that most of the work on superbugs has focused on the type
known as MRSA (multi resistant staphylococcus aureus).

DAVID PATERSON: I think it's probably been rightly dominating our concern but it's interesting
pharmaceutical companies reacted to that 10 years ago by developing new antibiotics against MRSA,
however pharmaceutical companies have not reacted to this threat because they get greater returns
on investment elsewhere - in drugs that are going to be taken for life that will therefore enable
plenty of sales turn over and plenty of profit for them.

It is estimated to cost $800 million to develop an antibiotic. We are going to say, well only take
that antibiotic for a week or two weeks and furthermore restrict the use of it and the companies
realise that and say well we're not just going to get a return on investment.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Other infectious disease specialists say Professor Paterson is right to sound
the alarm.

Professor Peter Collignon is a microbiologist at the Australian National University. He says there
have been forms of acinetobacters in hospitals here before.

PETER COLLIGNON: More importantly, we've had cross infections and it brings up a whole lot of
issues. We need to be vigilant when anybody is transferred from an area where there is a much
higher chance that this could occur and that's particularly being transferred, for instance, from a
hospital in Asia back to Australia.

But also we need then to be vigilant that we don't allow this germ to spread in Australia by having
good cleaning standards because this hangs around in the environment and particularly moist
surfaces. Also having very stringent infection control, making sure things like alcohol hand
hygiene are used all the time it should be and not just some of the time by nurses, doctors and
everywhere else.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Professor Collignon says Australians also need to be careful about the use of
antibiotics.

PETER COLLIGNON: If we overuse antibiotics what happens is that it gives us a lot of collateral
damage because the good guys get, all the good germs get knocked off as well as the bad ones, or
most of the bad ones and it leaves a fertile ground for if you get exposed to new multi-resistant
bugs they then can go forth and multiply on our skin or in our bowel because, if you like, they're
the only ones that can withstand the antibiotics because they're resistant.

So what it means is over using antibiotics, wherever we do it, whether we do it in agriculture,
whether we do it in the community, whether we do it in the hospital, it gives us an opportunity for
resistant bugs to come in and establish themselves. And also gives the opportunity much easier for
bugs with resistant genes to be able to transfer those genes into other bacteria that were
previously resistant.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Peter Collingon from the Australian National University ending that
report from Meredith Griffiths.