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Virulent Staphylococcus infection warning

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The Health Protection Agency has urged nurses to be vigilant about a severe form of Staphylococcus aureus which is on the rise in the UK.

Panton-Valentine Leukocidin-positive Staphylococcus aureus (PVL-SA) causes severe skin and soft tissue infections – mainly boils and abscesses.

If untreated, these can lead to illnesses, such as severe bone and joint infections, endocarditis and necrotising pneumonia.

Community and practice nurses should pay close attention to patients with recurring skin infections, particularly in high-risk areas such as care homes where the infection is easily spread, delegates at the HPA’s annual conference at Warwick University heard last week.

PVL-SA is easily spread by close contact and sharing personal items. It has become a major public health problem in the US and is rapidly spreading across Europe.

Cases have been recorded in Germany, Austria, Denmark and The Netherlands, and the number of recorded cases in England and Wales rose from 224 in 2005 to 1,361 in 2007.

‘Although the disease burden is still modest in the UK and the rest of Europe, this is a highly transmissible infection with a very high attack rate,’ said Angela Kearns, head of the staphylococcal reference laboratory at the HPA’s centre of infections.

‘Unlike MRSA, over half of all recorded cases in England and Wales have been in people aged under 40. These cases are complex and challenging to follow, especially in community settings,’ she added.

Early diagnosis and treatment of PVL-SA are vital.

Last month, The HPA issued guidance emphasising the need for stringent infection control practices. This also sets out recommendations on screening, decolonisation procedures and patient advice to prevent further spread.

The document can be downloaded from the HPA website at www.hpa.org.uk

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