Hospital superbugs face new threat

Published: 5 August 2007

Research group to focus on hospital-acquired infection

A new project aimed at tackling hospital superbugs has been launched.

Infection2Based at the University of Glasgow, the Scottish Infection Research Network (SIRN) will develop new methods of treating patients and stimulate new research into how these infections develop.

Dr Alistair Leanord, SIRN Director, said: "Tackling healthcare-associated infections is critical to the well-being of the nation. The prevalence of infections like MRSA and C Difficile means the work we are doing is more important that ever.

“The Scottish Infection Research Network is a bold new weapon in the fight against illness and we are committed to high quality research into improving healthcare in Scotland.

“Put simply, SIRN will reduce the risk of hospital acquired infection for future generations."

Funded by the Scottish Executive, SIRN brings together representatives from academia, industry and the healthcare sector.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Nicola Sturgeon said: "The launch of SIRN is a really important development and the new Scottish government is delighted to be providing financial support as part of the HAI Task Force work programme.

"Following the publication of the Point Prevalence survey last month, we now know how widespread HAIs are in our hospitals. Research initiatives like this will be vital in the fight against avoidable infections in hospitals and in the community. I am confident SIRN will increase the quality and amount of HAI research in Scotland, and make a significant scientific contribution towards the prevention and control of HAIs."

Tim Mitchell, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Glasgow, pictured below, said: “SIRN will help in the fight against infectious diseases and will assist in the development of new methods to prevent or treat them.


Tim Mitchell“With the increasing levels of resistance to existing antibiotics, the appearance of new diseases and the re-emergence of old diseases, it is imperative that new measures of prevention and control of bacterial infection are developed.

“Studying and understanding the molecular mechanisms by which bacterial pathogens causes disease allows the design of strategies to interfere with the process and thus treat or prevent disease.”

The remit of SIRN is to:
• Build a sustainable, high quality research infrastructure.
• Build capacity and capability of the healthcare-associated infections research community.
• Develop and support effective collaborative relationships among the healthcare-associated infections research community.
• Develop and shape high-quality research bids within themed programmes and against any agreed criteria.
• Initiate a research stream to evaluate current healthcare-associated infections practice.
• Endorse and promote healthcare-associated infections related research that is scientifically credible and has practical application.
• Attract and support research proposals that meet the CSO and other funding criteria.
• Generate, apply and disseminate healthcare-associated infections knowledge that enhances delivery and quality of patient care.
• Publish and support an agreed programme of healthcare-associated infections research.

Notes for editors

For more information or to speak to either Dr Alistair Leanord or Professor Tim Mitchell, please contact Ray McHugh at the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3535 or email

Hospital-acquired infections (HAI) are common in the United Kingdom affecting around 9per cent of the patient population.

MRSA – Many different bacteria can be caught in hospital but the most notorious is MRSA - methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA was relatively rare in the early 1990s representing only about 1-2 per cent of serious infections caused by this species however this figure rose to more than 45 per cent within 10 years.
MRSA can cause an extremely wide range of serious disease such as pneumonia, septicaemia, bone infections and toxic-shock. The antibiotics that can be used for the treatment of MRSA are more limited as a result of its resistance to various antibiotics. Many of these antibiotics have serious side effects that can complicate treatment. 

C. Difficile - Clostridium difficile is the major cause of hospital-acquired diarrhoea. More than 30 people died in 2005 and 2005 at Stoke Mandeville Hospital after an outbreak of the infection.

Clostridium difficile is commonly found in the large intestine and infections usually occur following long-term antibiotic therapy that kills other bacterial competitors allowing Clostridium difficile to take over. It produces two major toxins that inflame the colon causing diarrhoea.

Contamination of the hospital environment from this source is key in causing and prolonging outbreaks as the bacteria produces spores that can survive on wet or dry surfaces in hospitals for long periods.
Clostridium difficile can be readily treated using vancomycin or metronidazole but it is not killed by alcohol handwashes used by healthcare workers to prevent the spread of MRSA and other infections and is best dealt with using soap and water.

First published: 5 August 2007

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