• MRSA superbug spreads
outside of hospital into sports clubs and gyms
people in 3 years infected with MRSA despite no hospital
• New MRSA variant spreads through cuts and
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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."