Hong Kong must act now to contain an alarming number of blood infections from deadly superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, a leading researcher warns.
Professor Ho Pak-leung, who heads the University of Hong Kong's Centre of Infection, says a determined campaign to reduce these infections can save lives. New figures obtained by the South China Morning Post show the city's public hospitals saw 651 cases of bloodstream infections of the most well-known superbug, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in 2010.
"These figures are alarming," said Professor Ho.
"Assuming a third of the 651 died, then we have more than 200 patients that died last year, and that's a lot. These deaths were potentially preventable," said Ho. The Hospital Authority plans to formally release the numbers this week.
Antibiotics have been the first line of defence against infection for more than 60 years but the spread of superbugs is threatening the effectiveness of these life saving drugs.
The authority refused to provide the number of deaths of MRSA blood-infection patients, but a document found on the authority's website shows that in 2008, nearly 39 per cent of Hospital Authority patients with MRSA blood infections died within 30 days. The number of infections has steadily declined since 2007, but hospitals have fallen short of the authority's stated reduction goals and remain far behind countries such as Britain.
The Hospital Authority wants to reduce infection rates to 0.1258 cases per 1,000 acute patient days - a 34 per cent reduction from 2007 levels. But according to the data, the infection rate has dropped only 12 per cent since 2007.
In the first year, the 15 hospitals that handle acute cases saw a 10 per cent decline in the rate of infection, which is calculated on the number of patient days per year, and the number of blood infections dropped from 813 to 778.
But in the three years since, improvements have been much slower.
"From 2007 to 2008, you can say the baseline is higher. That's why improvement is easier and the efforts are more obviously shown when you first implement. To sustain these efforts is harder," said Dr Dominic Tsang, the Hospital Authority's chief infection control officer.