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Nasty Bug Watch: MRSA Infections Down, But New Threat Looms

Do you want the good or the bad news on nasty, antibiotic-resistant infections?

We’re chipper today, so we’ll start with the good: Rates of invasive infections by MRSA, the infamous drug-resistant staph bacteria, appear to be on the decline, according to a study published in JAMA. CDC researchers looked at data covering nine metro areas over the four years ending in 2008, and found a 9.4% annual drop in infections thought to be contracted in the hospital and a 5.7% annual decline in those believed to be contracted in the community.

That lines up with recent trends in Europe, and also with another CDC study, published last year, that found a drop in the rate of infection specifically in the intensive care unit and associated with the use of central lines.

Scientists don’t know exactly why this is happening, but they speculate that prevention measures taken in hospitals are contributing. “Only by improving existing surveillance and prevention research programs can clinicians and infection control researchers begin to explain why,” write the authors of an editorial accompanying the study.

The bad news concerns another type of bug, called gram-negative bacteria. (Informed Patient columnist Laura Landro wrote about this threat in 2008.) A study just published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases finds that a gene giving resistance to almost all antibiotics is now commonly found in a family of gram-negative bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae from patients in India and Pakistan — as well as UK patients who went to India for elective surgery. (Here’s the WSJ story.)

University of Calgary medical microbiologist Johann Pitout, who wrote the editorial accompanying the study, tells the Health Blog that bacteria with this gene are found throughout those two countries, as well as Bangladesh, but it’s not clear how common they are. Nor do we know the risk of acquiring this type of infection from hospitals in those areas, or whether and how a person could transmit it back in his home country. Research on all those points is needed, he says.

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