Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, is using some very clever new technology. In effect, after an MRSA super-bug infection has occurred, they can swab all those around and see who was transmitting that specific strain. That allows them to prevent the source from infecting other patients.

I applaud them as this is a good step. However there is another point to consider. Above I used the phrase “after an MRSA superbug infection has occurred” with the operative word being AFTER. Yes, once it has happened, it’s good for them to have techniques which will reduce the chances of it happening again.

But why let the infection happen in the first place? And given the large number of MRSA strains circulating in people, will this method prevent the next infection from a different strain. Sadly, no. Valuable and scarce resources will go into halting the spread of one very specific strain. You might wonder if there will then be fewer funds available to prevent infections from the other strains.

There is yet another disquietening fact to consider. MRSA is a very topical bacterium but it isn’t, and never has been, the major killer. E. coli and its relatives hold that accolade. Spending resources chasing single strains of a not-that-common infection is an interesting way of utilising tight budgets.

Those of you who follow this blog know I like to present positive actions whenever I find it necessary to criticise, especially when I’m choosing to challenge something so good. If a simple effective Prevention Philosophy was implemented, such infections would be very rare events saving a great deal of money, some of which could be spent hunting down specific strains of MRSA with this new method. In fact, even that expense could soon be saved as MRSA infections also became rare.

Where could this hospital find an effective Prevention Philosophy? In their archives as I developed it with them over a decade ago. Is it being used in any British hospitals? No, as the preference here is to follow the De-contamination Philosophy. I use the hyphen to indicate that de-contamination takes place AFTER the event and this new method of hunting down specific MRSA strains is another example of precisely that.

Is the Prevention Philosophy being used elsewhere? Yes, in South Korea it’s having a positive impact. The cultural differences between the UK and Korea which allow us to help there and not here can be used for mutual gain. Change is avoided in Britain whereas in South Korea change is challenged – they give it a try under intense scrutiny. Enough Korean hospitals have been using it for long enough to now say the Prevention Philosophy is safe. That provides confidence for UK hospitals where their existing De-contamination Philosophy is exposing them and their patients.

To avoid change is now the greater threat to British hospital management. Acting AFTER the infection is a poor defence.

Dr Harley Farmer PhD BVSc(hons) BVBiol(path) MRCVS. Published author, campaigner against needless infections, public speaker.

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