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Good news in fight against antibiotic resistance

Media release

Good news in New Zealand’s fight against antibiotic resistance

Rates of an antibiotic-resistant superbug have levelled off in New Zealand while continuing to climb elsewhere in the world, according to figures released by ESR, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

ESR senior scientist Helen Heffernan released the figures at the launch of the annual Wise Use of Antibiotics campaign. The objective of this PHARMAC-led campaign is to remind New Zealanders to use antibiotics responsibly.

Helen Heffernan says the figures show that New Zealand’s overall rates of antibiotic resistance are often better than countries such as Australia, the UK and the USA. “These figures show we may be making gains in specific areas, for example, in the incidence rates of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA.”

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can cause serious infections and because of their resistance are particularly difficult and expensive to treat. MRSA bacteria are especially dangerous to vulnerable people such as hospital patients and the elderly.

In New Zealand the rapidly increasing rates of MRSA have now halted, while in other countries these rates continue to grow. Most recent figures show that Australia’s rates are almost twice those recorded in New Zealand. Rates in the UK are more than five times greater and rates in the USA are more than seven times higher.

While the rates of all MRSA bacteria in New Zealand have levelled off, the occurrence of the most common strain of MRSA in the community has decreased over the last five years, she says.

Dr Peter Moodie, PHARMAC’s medical director, says this is really good news for New Zealand, as MRSA bacteria are a huge cost to individual patients’ health and the health care sector in general.

Peter Moodie says a key contributor to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is unnecessary use of antibiotics. “The annual Wise Use of Antibiotics campaign has been a valuable tool in the broader fight against antibiotic resistance. This campaign reminds people every year that these drugs are only effective against bacterial infections, and they do not kill the viruses causing colds and the flu.” [more]
The campaign also emphasises the importance of people visiting their doctor if they are in any doubt about their illness. For many people, this has been made easier through the introduction of PHOs, he says.

Research following the Wise Use of Antibiotics campaign in 2005 showed that more than 80% of New Zealanders were more informed about using antibiotics sensibly. Over the seven years of the campaign, there has been 12% decrease in the number of antibiotic prescriptions in New Zealand. However, last year prescriptions rose slightly by 4%.

While the picture in New Zealand is generally good, the high rates of resistance and continuing resistance of some bacteria continue to cause concerns. The rates of the antibiotic-resistant pneumococccal bacteria, which commonly cause sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia, remain a problem area, Helen Heffernan says.

For these reasons, she warns that continued vigilance with antibiotic use is necessary.

The Wise Use of Antibiotics is supported by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, Plunket, the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand, doctors groups and PHOs around New Zealand.


[1] Rates are based on the percentage of Staphylococcus aureus found to have methicillin resistance: New Zealand 8% (2004), Australia 15% (2004), UK 44% (2004), USA 59% (2003).

Attached is a bar graph showing the number of people in New Zealand from whom MRSA was isolated between 1990 and 2005.

Figure 1

Click to enlarge

Please note: no survey was undertaken in 1999.

© Scoop Media

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