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The tabloid fixation on superbugs

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 02 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:578
  1. Peter Wilson, consultant microbiologist (
  1. The Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences

    Superbug crisis worse than feared,” “Superbug kills 22 in one hospital in a year,” “Our squalid hospitals: no wonder the MRSA superbug is so rife,” “We find 80 times danger level of MRSA in hospital.” The media in the United Kingdom have developed a fascination for methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus recently. The New York Times was moved to observe that “newspapers around the country have been clamoring to find victims and to publish their sordid stories.” Most articles centre on poor hand hygiene of staff and the state of cleanliness of the hospitals, illustrating the problem with some unfortunate patient's story. Some even include cases of methicillin sensitive S aureus (MSSA), particularly if it happens to involve a minor celebrity.

    There is little doubt that MRSA infection can be difficult to treat and may spread easily to some patients. Infections prolong stays in hospital and can increase mortality. The number of lawsuits citing MRSA infection is increasing exponentially. However, MRSA has been a constant problem in many UK hospitals since 1993, so why has attention become so intense now?

    Part of the coverage stemmed from the publication in mid-July of the National Audit Office's report on hospital acquired infection, which noted disappointing progress since …

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