A major information campaign will be launched around the issue of hand hygiene as reports reveal up to 10,000 patients are picking up harmless staphylococcus aureus bacteria in Irish hospitals.
The bacteria can develop into the potentially fatal MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) in up to 400 cases a year.
A Department of Health spokesman said that the campaign will be aimed at the public and healthcare workers.
Ireland has the second highest rate of MRSA infection in Europe. Hand hygiene, overprescribing of antibiotics and overcrowding in hospitals are all seen as contributing to the growing problem.
It is still unclear whether the minister plans to force hospitals to publish their rates of infection but has said that she will be examining the way MRSA data is compiled.
Meanwhile, UCD lecturer and veterinary surgeon Dr Nola Leonard has said that dog and cat owners have nothing to fear from the revelation that a strain of MRSA, similar to that found in humans, has been detected in pets.
MRSA was found in up to 30 animals, mostly pet dogs, after bacteria samples were sent to UCD as they were not responding to antibiotics. UCD passed them on to Athlone Institute of Technology.
“The evidence suggests that the pets acquired the bacteria from humans, either their owners or vets, and I don’t think that the elderly, for instance, should be worrying about contracting it from their animals as there is virtually no risk,” Dr Leonard said.
Veterinary Ireland president Frank O’Sullivan yesterday said that they have been aware of antibiotic-resistant illnesses for a long time and that they take sufficient precautions.
“We choose our medication in a safe and correct manner so as not to increase resistance and also warn animal owners that it is very important to take a full course of antibiotics so as to ensure that bacteria don’t remain, which could potentially learn how to adapt against a antibiotic,” said Mr O’Sullivan.