Introduction: Staphylococcus aureus invasive infection remains a serious condition associated with considerable morbidity and mortality. Following notification of five cases at Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH), we searched for related cases, determined their epidemiological characteristics and attempted to identify the source of this apparent cluster.
Methods: We reviewed RDH microbiology records between June 1996 and April 1997 for S. aureus isolates with similar antibiograms to notified cases. We used antibiotic resistance patterns, bacteriophage typing and two molecular typing techniques to subtype implicated isolates. Hospital records were reviewed for admission details and associated costs were estimated.
Results: Fifty-four cluster-related isolates occurred in 47 separate presentations. The peak incidence was in the wet season. The most important risk factor for staphylococcal invasive infection was the presence of skin sores/scabies in 17/54 cases (31%), followed by intravascular line use in 14/54 (26%), open trauma in 11/54 (20%), underlying end stage renal failure and alcoholism each in ten of 54 (18%). The mean admission length was 30 days and antibiotics were given for an average of 23 days. Death due to S. aureus infection occurred in eight of 47 (17%) presentations. S. aureus pneumonia was community acquired in 12/13 patients (92%) and six of 13 (46%) died. Ten of 13 (80%) pneumonia patients had at least one other focus of S. aureus infection. The cost of antibiotics and hospital bed per presentation was approximately $16,000. Presentations with skin sores/scabies cost considerably more ($31,000). No common epidemiologic features were found for community or hospital acquired cases.
Conclusion: Considerable mortality and cost was attributable to cases of S. aureus invasive infection during this cluster; particularly those with community acquired pneumonia or skin sores/scabies. Staphylococcal antibiotic cover should be considered early for unwell patients presenting to hospital with pneumonia and other signs of potential S. aureus infection. It is appropriate to target public health efforts to prevent skin sores and to provide adequate treatment when they occur.