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Alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant superbug

Alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant superbug - Greens

26 March 2000

A 2150 per cent increase during the last decade in the incidence of the most common antibiotic-resistant superbug in New Zealand is alarming, Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley said today.

The superbug, Methicillin Resistant Staphlyococcus Aureus (MRSA), is carried on the noses or skin of healthy people without harming them, but can be dangerous for a person weakened by a hospital stay.

Ms Kedgley was informed of the percentage increase by the Minister of Health in answer to a written parliamentary question. Between June last year and January this year, 77 people were diagnosed with MRSA infections at Wellington Hospital, although infection control measures have since controlled the outbreak.

The Minister of Health also confirmed that the percentage of cases of streptococcus pneumoniae resistant to penicillin had increased from 1.3 per cent in 1981 to 15.1 per cent in 1998.

"These figures show an alarming increase in antibiotic resistance in New Zealand," Ms Kedgley said. "The indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture and medicine is squandering the greatest medical advance of the 20th century."

While infection control measures could help keep a lid on hospital superbug infections, they are a band-aid solution, she said.

"We need an urgent strategy to reduce the amount of antibiotic use in human medicine and in agriculture - ideally to less than half the present level. The strategy should prohibit the practice of feeding antibiotics as growth promotants to animals who are not sick, and stop the current practice of spraying a total of 1.2 tonnes each year of the antibiotic streptomycin on stonefruit, tomatoes and apples.

"Any antibiotic which is important in treating human diseases should not be used for agricultural purposes, in order to protect its effectiveness," said Ms Kedgley. "We need to find lifestock and horticultural production methods that do not rely on routine antibiotic use."

Ms Kedgley said she was also concerned to see resistance emerging to the last antibiotic effective against many multi-resistant superbugs, vancomycin. The Minister of Health stated, also in a written answer, that eight cases of vancomycin-resistant enterococcus had been reported in New Zealand since 1996.

Copies of written answers from the Minister of Health available on request.

Sue Kedgley MP: (04) 470 6728 or 025 270 9088 Gina Dempster, Press secretary: (04) 470 6723 or 021 1265 289

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