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Hospitals in England may be beginning to win the battle against infections, figures released by the Health Protection Agency indicate.
The statistics show that the number of new cases of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) reported between April 2006 and March 2007 was 6381, down by more than 10% from the 7096 reported in the previous year.
The agency said that since mandatory surveillance of MRSA was introduced in 2001 the number of reported cases has fallen by 12%.
The latest quarterly figures for MRSA also show a drop in the number of cases, with 1303 reported between April and June 2007 and 1447 reported between January and March.
There are early indications that the number of Clostridium difficile infections could be beginning to fall as well. Figures for patients aged ≥65 years show a 13% fall, from 15639 in the quarter January to March 2007 to 13660 new cases in April to June.
However, the total number of C difficile infections rose by 7% from 2005-6 to 2006-7, from 51829 to 55620. This is a smaller increase than the 16% rise recorded from 2004-5 to 2005-6.
For the first time, data on the number of C difficile infections in patients aged between 2 and 64 years were published, although no comparisons can be made, as mandatory collection of these began only in April this year.
The agency said that the MRSA data were impressive, given that hospitals are now treating a higher number of elderly and seriously ill patients.
Pete Borriello, director of the agency's Centre for Infections, said, “These latest figures show a continuing downward trend in MRSA infections. Some NHS trusts have made a significant impact on their MRSA infection rates, against a backdrop of increasing workloads.”
However, Professor Borriello added, more needed to be done to see the same level of decrease in the number of cases of C difficile. “We are encouraging trusts to use the figures to raise the profile of local infection control practices and make changes where the results indicate this may be necessary,” he said.
The health secretary, Alan Johnson, said he was encouraged by the figures. “We are the only country in the world to impose mandatory, universal surveillance of MRSA and C difficile, including for the first time gathering information on C difficile in those under 65. We have also raised the bar to ensure that the highest possible hygiene standards are set for trusts,” he said.