Significant Differences: Threats posed by Hospital Bacteria in Europe

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics causes approximately 33,000 deaths across Europe each year, according to a team from the ECDC centre for disease control in Solna, Sweden. The experts evaluated data from 30 countries in the EU and the European economic area that were highlighted by the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net) in 2015. This interactive graphic focuses on MRSA, which stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – so a group of bacteria that is mainly resistant to the antibiotic methicillin.

MRSA is prevalent in hospitals, where it is largely passed on from patient to patient. According to the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) , these types of bacteria also appear on the skin and mucous membranes of healthy people. They can be located in the nasal cavity, throat, armpits and other areas of the body without infecting the host. Once they enter the body, however, even a non-life-threatening illness can be deadly. In many cases, even the use of other strains of antibiotics do not help. MRSA is prevalent in places where antibiotics are subject to frequent use, like for example in hospitals. The visualisation shows the proportion of MRSA bacteria among all Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in European hospitals.

Though the proportion is declining as an EU average, around a quarter of EU countries including Portugal, Greece and Malta have an MRSA proportion of more than 28 per cent. The highest proportion of any EU country is in Romania (44 per cent). The lowest proportion is in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland. There seems to be a disparity between north and south within the EU.

According to the BZgA, the bacteria is most often transferred directly from person to person. Hands are the main body part by which it is transferred. Both infected people and people merely carrying the bacteria on their body can transfer it. Infection can also occur via objects such as door handles, rails and bath utensils. The bacteria can also survive on plastic and stainless steel used for devices such as catheters. An NRSA infection can have particularly grave consequences for older patients and infants.