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Hospital super-bug may be tip of iceberg

29 October 2007

Hospital super-bug may be tip of iceberg

The outbreak of an antibiotic resistant superbug in Auckland Hospital is a wakeup call for New Zealand, Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.

"Senior micro-biologists and the Green Party have been warning for years that antibiotic resistance poses a very serious threat to public health. What sort of incident is required before the authorities recognise that urgent testing and research into antibiotic resistance is needed?

"The Auckland Hospital outbreak may well be only the tip of the iceberg, but there is no way of knowing if antibiotic resistant bugs exist in communities outside hospitals, in live animals or in meat destined for human consumption. In fact no one has a clear idea of the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in New Zealand, because there is very little testing done at all.

"It is entirely possible that vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) are already established in communities in New Zealand without our knowledge. Health authorities have not been undertaking the necessary testing and have not been treating this public health issue with the urgency that it demands," Ms Kedgley says.

The Green Party has been calling for more than eight years for regular monitoring and testing of the level of antibiotic resistance in humans and in animals - particularly chickens, which are routinely fed antibiotics from the same classes of drugs that are also used to treat humans.

Many experts attribute the emergence of super-bugs to indiscriminate use of antibiotics, the failure of patients to complete their antibiotic courses and the routine use of antibiotics in the feed of healthy animals.

"While we can't say for certain that the current Auckland superbug case was caused by the indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to livestock either here or overseas, this incident should trigger a New Zealand response which addresses all the avenues for superbug development.

"The Green Party is calling for a precautionary approach. We need to regularly test for antibiotic resistance in those animals being fed antibiotics. We also need to prohibit the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals that are not sick," Ms Kedgley says.

"The spread of antibiotic resistance will undermine many important medical advances of the last 150 years. Society can never regain the effectiveness of antibiotics, if they are lost in this way."


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