A new drug-resistant strain of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (staph) currently affecting gay and prison communities in Los Angeles has yet to hit Australia, according to local healthcare workers.

We’ve certainly seen staphylococcus in people with HIV but no [drug] resistant community strains, Dr Debbie Marriott, associate professor and senior specialist in clinical microbiology and infectious diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital, told Sydney Star Observer.

Dr John Ewan of the Taylor Square Private Clinic also told the Star that he had yet to encounter evidence of the new strain in Australia.

The new strain of staph became world news last week when it was reported that dozens of gay men in Los Angeles and San Francisco and over 1,000 gaol inmates in Los Angeles had developed painful skin infections.

Staph causes boils and abscesses on the skin and has been commonly found in hospitals and nursing homes, being spread indirectly though shared hospital equipment or skin to skin contact. Previous strains have been transmissible through the skin at weak points such as incisions or wounds, although the latest strain has been reported to penetrate unbroken skin.

The new strain is also unusual in that it has spread beyond its traditional settings, with the San Francisco Chronicle reporting speculation that gay men could be contracting the bacteria in gyms and steam rooms. Of added concern is evidence that the latest strain is resistant to a broader range of antibiotics, according to the Chronicle. Two cases were reported last year of staph infections that did not respond to vancomycin, considered the last line of defence in antibiotics.

No deaths have been reported from the new strain, although The New York Times reported that treatments have involved an intensive course of intravenous antibiotics and the removal of infected tissue.

Dr Marriott told the Star that the strain could spread to Australia via the gay community, but this was not cause for alarm.

It’s possible. For example, some of the community-acquired staph can spread between footballers, Marriott said. It’s not uncommon to have outbreaks in rugby players if one person in the rugby scrum is infected with a virulent strain of the organism -¦ So it is possible that if someone came to Australia carrying that strain and had close person-to-person contact with people here, transmission may occur.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that while many of these patients were HIV-positive, the infection was not necessarily related to HIV.

San Francisco doctor Bill Owen told the Chronicle, It could be that patients that have some compromise in their immune system are a little more susceptible to this bacteria, but people who have totally intact immune systems are coming down with this, too.

Dr Marriott said, Everyone carries it [staph] on their skin, but it’s only in certain circumstances that it actually seems to cause problems. Eighty percent of the community will have staph in their nose for example -¦

Some strains are more virulent than others. So if they get into people with a predisposition for infection, it may cause problems. In HIV you can get atypical presentations with staph, but we’ve not seen this more resistant community-acquired one so far in our population in this area.

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