New Zealand has been experiencing soaring rates of staph infections, and the country’s Health Research Council believes part of the reason is a rising growth of antibacterial resistance. Specifically, the blame is being put on the overuse of topical antibiotics containing fusidic acid, particularly to treat cases of impetigo.
In Brief: Staphylococcus Aureus
S. aureus bacteria are fairly common; in fact, there is probably some on your skin right now. Most of the time, it’s harmless, but this can change if it enters the skin. One possible consequence of this is impetigo, also known as “school sores” because it tends to appear in school-age children. The condition causes red, itchy skin, blisters, and a wet-looking crust, but is not dangerous. What is more dangerous is that S. aureus can cause more serious infections if it penetrates deeper tissue, or affects someone with an impaired immune system. In the worst case scenario, it can lead to sepsis.
New Zealand, incidentally, has one of the highest rates of staph infections in the developed world.
The Research Council Study
The Health Research Council of New Zealand funded a study that investigated possible fusidic acid resistance in the country. Fusidic acid is an antibiotic agent used for treating skin infections from staph, and is commonly used in the form of a topical cream.
One of the main findings was that since 1999 (when it was first measured), fusidic acid resistance in New Zealand has almost doubled. It is currently at a rate of around 30%—among the highest in the developed world. Not coincidentally, the prescription rates of fusidic acid-containing creams has also gone up during this time. The findings highlight an unintended consequence of trying to deal with the infections. New Zealand’s high rate of staph infection led to high rates of fusidic acid prescriptions, which in turn spurred higher fusidic acid resistance.
Right now, fusidic acid-containing creams are the first-line agent for treating school sores. In order to preserve the use of fusidic acid for more serious infections, it has been suggested that this practice should change. A push for more clinical trials of alternative antiseptic agents for school sores is also advised, in order to provide an alternative for parents.
“Soaring Skin Infections Linked to Antibacterial Resistance,” Health Research Council of New Zealand web site, September 20, 2016; http://www.hrc.govt.nz/news-and-publications/news-media, last accessed September 20, 2016.