'War on superbugs' like E. coli announced by government

Someone washing hands Image copyright PA

The government has announced a new war against hospital superbugs following a rise in the number of E. coli cases.

While superbug strains MRSA and C. diff have reduced over the last decade, E. coli cases are rising in England, killing more than 5,500 last year.

There will be a renewed focus on hand-washing, while hospitals will also have to publish E. coli rates in wards.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it will reduce the "enormous human pain and suffering" caused by superbugs.

The government's plans also include the appointment of a new national infection tsar, Dr Ruth May, and a stricter inspection regime for hospitals.

Antibiotic resistant

The E. coli infection, which can cause respiratory, urinary and surgical site infections and turn into life-threatening sepsis, makes up nearly two-thirds of antibiotic-resistant infections.

BBC health correspondent Robert Pigott said there were 40,000 cases of E. coli in England last year - an increase of 20% in five years.

One in three E. coli infections are now resistant to antibiotics, with the cost of treating the bug estimated to be £3,000-£6,000 per patient.

As they do not respond to drugs and most available antibiotics, E. coli can thrive and pass on genetic materials that also allow other bacteria to become drug-resistant.

There are also large variations in hospital infection rates, with some having more than five times the number of cases than others.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption There were 40,000 cases of E. coli in England last year, an increase of 20% in five years

As a result, Mr Hunt wants hospital staff, patients and visitors to wash their hands regularly and patients with devices - such as catheters - to be given better care.

Catheters, which are often used following surgery, can develop infections like E. coli if they are not inserted properly or left in too long.

It also plans to publish E. coli rates in hospital wards, where they will be visible to patients and visitors - which is what currently happens for MRSA and C. diff rates.

The NHS will also be publishing data on prescriptions so that patients and commissioners can see which trusts are correctly prescribing antibiotics.

The bug can also be spread through food, with Public Health England saying a recent outbreak may have been caused by pre-packed salads, including rocket leaves.

Avoiding E. coli infection

  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before and after handling food, and after handling animals
  • Remove any loose soil before storing vegetables and salads
  • Wash all vegetables and fruits that will be eaten raw
  • Store and prepare raw meat and unwashed vegetables away from ready-to-eat foods
  • Do not prepare raw vegetables with utensils that have also been used for raw meat
  • Cook all minced meat products, such as burgers and meatballs, thoroughly
  • People who have been ill should not prepare food for others for at least 48 hours after they have recovered

Source: Public Health England

Mr Hunt said: "Taken together, these measures are intended to achieve a dramatic reduction in hospital infections, reducing enormous human pain and suffering in the process.

"They will make us better at knowing when to use antibiotics and better at knowing when not to use them."

As an incentive, Clinical Commissioning Groups that reduce E. coli bloodstream infections by 10% and use antibiotics appropriately will get a share of £45m in 2017-18.

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