Healthcare: At a Glance - New guidelines on MRSA due for launch next month

- Is this another bid to stem hospital-acquired MRSA?

No, this time the guidelines are about infections picked up through cuts and grazes outside of hospitals. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy are consulting on guidance for GPs to stop the spread of this so-called 'community-acquired' MRSA. The Daily Mail picked up on the story this week.

- So the HPA is promoting this?

No, not actively at the moment, although it may do so to health professionals after the consultation period ends in a month's time. The HPA has no agency help at present on MRSA. The in-house team is run by Lis Birrane, who is HPA director of comms. David Daley is senior press officer in charge of the HPA's centre for infections team. Why did the story come to market now?

The guidance is being updated after about two years at the request of the Department of Health. Earlier this month, medical magazine Pulse ran a piece headlined 'GPs handed key MRSA role', which laid out some of the ways in which doctors might be encouraged to recognise signs of the serious disease. The HPA comms team sent a statement in response to a request this week from the Mail, whose own piece was headlined 'GPs on alert for killer MRSA in nurseries, schools and the gym'.

- Hmm. Sounds like the perfect Mail headline?

Well, no-one is denying that there is a problem. The unpleasant substance Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) produced by the bug has led the Mail to brand it a 'flesh-eating strain of MRSA'. In fact this is actually a fairly minor health issue, affecting about 150 people in the UK each year - but it can be fatal and it seems there is a will in the medical profession to ensure that the numbers do not spiral. Pulse says there has been a 90 per cent rise in prescriptions for community-acquired infections in the past decade.

- And hasn't MRSA just been in the news?

Yes, the hospital-acquired version of the superbug was in the headlines again last week when actress Leslie Ash, who contracted MRSA at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, won a record £5m after reaching an out-of-court settlement.

Further information www.hpa.org.uk, www.bsac.org.uk.

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