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Top hospitals 'struggling to stem MRSA'

THE number of patients who contracted MRSA infections has fallen but major infirmaries -- including St James's Hospital -- are still struggling to prevent the spread of the superbug.

A study shows 335 cases were reported nationally last year, compared to 439 in 2008.

However, the disease watchdog which compiled the report said Ireland continues to be among the countries in Europe with highest rates of the infection.

The hospitals with the highest recorded number of MRSA cases were University College Hospital Galway and Merlin Park (35), St James's Hospital Dublin (29) and Cork University Hospital (27). All the other major hospitals in the capital and region are also high on the MRSA league table.

The watchdog -- the Health Protection Surveillance Centre -- collected figures from private hospitals for the first time and no cases were reported from the major centres. The report noted that although a patient is diagnosed with MRSA in a particular hospital it does not mean that they picked it up there.

The latest figures show the continued threat from another related bug MSSA. Reported cases climbed to 954 last year compared to 864 in 2008.

MRSA is resistant to a range of common antibiotics but doctors treating someone with MSSA have a greater choice of drugs to work on the patient.

Proper handwashing by staff, patients and visitors is regarded as key measure to reduce the risk of spread but several inspection reports by HIQA show many hospitals are still not meeting high standards.