Staph infections on the rise

Overuse of antibiotics is contributing to an increase in cases of golden staph outside of hospitals, researchers say.

Drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - also known as golden staph or S. aureus - is carried by up to 2.2 per cent of the Australian population who were responsible for 20 per cent of outbreaks in 2015, according to research published by the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday.

The other 80 per cent of community outbreaks was caused by people who carried regular staph.

The study, led by Australian National University, found the rate of antibiotic-resistant golden staph outbreaks in hospitals had declined, suggesting a need to shift control measures to the community.

Young people, Indigenous Australians and residents in aged care facilities were also found to be at most risk following an analysis of the data collected by Hunter New England Health.

Staphylococcus is a common bacteria which lives on the skin and in the nose which can cause mild to severe and potentially fatal infections after entering the body through a cut to the skin.

It can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, touching contaminated services or poor personal hygiene such as not washing hands or covering open wounds.

Staph is classified as drug-resistant when it is not cured by the first round of antibiotics.

Until the early 2000s, drug-resistant golden staph infections predominantly occurred in a healthcare setting, with just 11.5 per cent of outbreaks in 2000 occurring in the community. Today, that figure is 56.9 per cent.

Overuse of antibiotics was partly to blame, research author Dr Jason Agostino from the ANU college of health and medicine said.

"We're a high antibiotic-using society and we are getting bugs that are developing resistance," Dr Agostino said.

"We need to develop more targeted use of antibiotics in the community.

"Everyone has a role in reducing antibiotic prescription and talking about things that governments can do, that GPs can do and the community can do."

Young people were also more likely to develop staph in the community, with the median age of infected patients aged 26 compared to 65 for those in a hospital setting.

"Obviously people having infections in hospital are more likely to be older. Young people are also more likely to have skin-to-skin contact and that is one of the ways it spreads," Dr Agostino said.

Dr Tony Bartone, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said historically golden staph was low risk but population growth and dense population centres made it harder to control.

He agreed society needed to be more prudent with antibiotic use.

"Bacteria are living organisms, they do share their information quite quickly and they adapt. It's survival of the fittest. If you knock out the normal stuff, you allow the really hardcore to take hold."

"There needs to be a community understanding that antibiotics aren't always required and are the wonder bullet that penicillin was in the 1940s."

But Dr Bartone stressed staph was "rarely very serious" and said it could be managed in most cases by good personal hygiene.

This story Staph infections on the rise first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.