1950s superbug re-emerges as 'souped-up' MRSA
Today's MRSA superbug that is spreading through communities can be traced back to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that first emerged in the 1950s.
The first examples of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus type 80/81 were isolated in Canada and Australia in 1953.
- FROM MARCH 30, 2005: Doctors fear epidemic of superbug that hits the healthy
|MRSA and hospital hygiene|
Although deaths from MRSA superbugs have occurred at the same time hospital cleaning staff are being outsourced in the country, an editorial in The Lancet notes this is merely a circumstantial link.
The editorial comments on how political parties in the U.K. have seized on public fears over unclean hospitals.
"This tit-for-tat political posturing has certainly helped keep health in the public eye," the editorial reads. "But none of these policies reflect the real failure in U.K. hospitals: non-adherence to basic infection control.
Evidence shows that housekeeping practices are unlikely to have an overall effect on transmission of MRSA unless essential infection-control practices â the use of gloves and hand hygiene â are prioritised. But this is rarely the case."
At the time, the microbes caused skin lesions, sepsis and pneumonia in children and young adults worldwide.
Hospital- and community-acquired infections waned as doctors began prescribing the antibiotic meticillin in the 1960s.
By comparing the 1950s samples to the same regions of genes from a community-acquired MRSA in England and Scotland today, the researchers found a match.
Nearly all of the samples were identical. Bacteria from both time periods also shared the same highly-virulent toxin.
- INDEPTH: Hospital infections
The results suggest today's community-acquired MRSA evolved from the earlier type, which evolved resistance to meticillin in the last 30 years or so.
"We have shown that 80/81 and its souped-up community-acquired MRSA descendent share many of the same features, which explains why the 1950s pandemic was so successful," Enright said in a release.
Writing in the April 2 issue of the medical journal The Lancet, the team warns the community-acquired superbug may spread faster and be more widespread than expected.