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The Scotsman
Tue 1 Mar 2005
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Superbug MRSA spreads into gyms and sports clubs

MICHAEL BLACKLEY

Key points
MRSA superbug spreads outside of hospital into sports clubs and gyms
100 people in 3 years infected with MRSA despite no hospital connection
New MRSA variant spreads through cuts and abrasions

Key quote
"MRSA is becoming a significant danger outside healthcare settings. These bugs are pandemic. It is more of a future threat in Britain than a current one, but they are taking it very seriously in the United States" - Dr Mark Enright, University of Bath

Story in full THE risk of contracting the superbug MRSA also exists in sports clubs and gyms, health protection experts warned yesterday. Initially, the bug was a problem affecting hospitals and nursing homes and was concentrated mainly among the elderly, who have weaker immune systems.

However, 100 people in three years have been infected by a new variant of the disease that affects people with no connection to a hospital or other healthcare institution.

Among areas identified as potentially hazardous are clubs that use communal changing areas, where the bug could be passed on through a dirty towel.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that Community-Acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) was most commonly seen in prisons, among intravenous drug users and homosexual men.

Dr Mark Enright, at the University of Bath, said: "MRSA is becoming a significant danger outside healthcare settings. These bugs are pandemic. It is more of a future threat in Britain than a current one, but they are taking it very seriously in the United States."

The cases, which had all occurred in England and Wales, included one fatality, when a 28-year-old woman died from pneumonia after contracting CA-MRSA.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "MRSA is a methicillin-resistant mutation of a common bacterium called Staphylococcus Aureus, found on 30 per cent of people.

"We are now aware of a small number of cases of a mutation of this bacterium that spreads through cuts and abrasions and causes soft-tissue and skin infections in otherwise healthy people outside of the hospital environment.

"Nearly all cases of this bacterium result in nasty skin or joint infections but these are treatable with antibiotics."

The Department of Health advises people to pay attention to personal hygiene in order to avoid infection - washing hands and showering after sport, carefully cleaning cuts and abrasions, keeping wounds and cuts covered and seeking medical help at any sign of infection.

The number of deaths where the normal strain of MRSA - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus - has been a factor have doubled in four years, with 955 in 2003.

The Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman Paul Burstow said the government must take action to reduce the threat of the new strain.

He said: "These cases are worrying and demonstrate that we face an uphill battle in tackling these superbugs.

"The appearance of MRSA in the community illustrates just how important it is not just to tackle infections in hospitals but also to have a clear strategy for sensible use of existing antibiotics and the development of new ones."

However, a Scottish expert on the spread of infection played down the impact the disease has had north of the Border. Dr John Cowden, an epidemiologist at Health Protection Scotland, said it could be assumed from routine surveillance of the bug that almost all cases were acquired in hospitals.

"We cannot be exact about the number acquired in the community but it must be extremely small and likely to involve only groups that introduce things into their bloodstream."

The risks to sports players were not great, he said. "To a rugby player, for example, tetanus remains a greater risk."

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