Fears for patients as MRSA cases on the rise
There are fears MRSA could take hold again in hospitals as new figures show the number of patients who fell victim to a bloodstream infection with the superbug rose for the first time in a decade last year.
The HSE confirmed that 192 patients suffered an MRSA bloodstream infection in 2017, up from 172 the previous year.
The trend comes in the wake of revelations that MRSA contributed to the severity of illness suffered by two babies in the neonatal unit who died from the complications of being born very prematurely in the Rotunda Hospital earlier this year.
MRSA lives harmlessly on the skin of around one in 30 people but it can be a killer if it gets into a patient's bloodstream.
It is still the most feared superbug, although others are now posing a threat.
Spokeswoman for the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the disease watchdog, said: "When we breakdown the numbers for each of the four quarters of the year we can see the numbers were up for the period April to June, but back down for the second half of the year.
"The number of cases was slightly lower in the period October to December 2017 than for the same period in 2016.
"Based on this pattern it is considered that the changes is related to natural variation or fluctuation in numbers over time that we would expect to see with any infection.
"The number of cases in 2017 is the second lowest annual number reported over the past 15 years - numbers have steadily decreased from 592 back in 2005 and 2006 [when the highest annual numbers were reported].
"We do expect a certain amount of natural variation in the numbers from year to year and from quarter to quarter."
She acknowledged that while there is no sign at this stage of an upward trend in the incidence of MRSA infections, it is important that we take nothing for granted.
A wide range of precautions are in place to reduce the risk of spread, including hand-washing by staff and the promotion of better antibiotics usage.
This includes more rational antibiotic use in hospitals.
There is an increasing focus on the prevention of infection associated with vascular catheters (IV lines), which would be the most common preventable source of MRSA bloodstream infection.
The proportion of infection associated with devices such as IV lines has been decreasing over the past two years, she said.
Other measures include MRSA detection through targeted screening of patients, and isolating patients who might spread the bug.