Staph case increase at region's hospitals

Golden staph infections have increased at major Illawarra and Shoalhaven hospitals in recent years, although the number of cases remain below the government guidelines.

According to a National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) report released on Thursday, there were 1724 Staphylococcus aureus infections at the nation's public hospitals in 2012-13, with more than 80 per cent occurring at the "major hospitals".

Wollongong Hospital, classified as a "major hospital with more vulnerable patients", recorded 27 cases of the potentially deadly infection in 2012-13. This compared with 21 cases the previous year, and 20 cases in 2010-11.

The best performing hospital in the same peer group in 2012-13 was the Prince Charles in Queensland with 10 reported cases; the worst was the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital with 65 cases.

However all hospitals in this group still beat the national target of no more than two infections per 10,000 patient bed days - the rate at Wollongong was 1.48.

An Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District spokeswoman said while this rate represented a slight increase on the previous year, it was due to "an unusual spike over a one-month period".

"Rates have again declined with six cases reported since July 2013 - well below benchmark," she said. "This [was due] to significant work undertaken in the areas of hand hygiene, equipment and environmental cleaning and hygiene practices on the ward."

Meantime, Shoalhaven Hospital recorded five golden staph cases in 2012-13, up from one case in 2011-12 and two cases in 2010-11.

Shellharbour, a large hospital with fewer vulnerable patients, had five cases in 2012-13 - the same as the 2010-11 figure but higher than the two cases recorded in 2011-12.

The bacteria is often found on the skin of healthy people and most cases can be treated by antibiotics. However 20 to 35 per cent of antibiotic-resistant strains end in death.

NHPA chief executive Dr Diane Watson said every case of healthcare-associated infection was "potentially preventable".

"Through our reporting, hospitals can see how they compare with their peers and have a clear benchmark to measure progress."