The Golden staph superbug in Indigenous communities - AUD $25

Menzies School of Health Research

The Golden staph superbug in Indigenous communities

When we think about golden staph, most people think about hospitals. Its incidence is an oft-cited measure of hospital quality and safety, and rightly so, given that golden staph quietly accounts for more Australian deaths per year than the annual road toll. The good news is that in hospitals at least, infection rates are declining. It will always be a threat, but extra vigilance around hand-washing and tighter procedures for intravenous lines means that hospitals are winning against golden staph.

In remote Aboriginal communities across Northern Australia however, it’s a different story. The bad news – and for the tiny babies and elderly who are most susceptible to staph especially so – is that in these communities, it’s rising rapidly. The annual incidence of golden staph bloodstream infections is now six times higher among Indigenous Australians than their non-Indigenous counterparts. It kills approximately one in four of its victims.

It most cases, golden staph is harmless, but if it enters the body through a cut in the skin, it’s life threatening. As a bloodstream infection it causes high fever, sweating, chills, boils, crippling pain, and can lead to serious complications such as necrotising pneumonia, which eats away at the lungs, or osteomyelitis, which eats your bones. In remote communities, we’re seeing an antibiotic-resistant form of staph, making standard penicillin-like drugs completely ineffective. This is a disturbing development indeed. Many of these community based golden staphs create tissue destroying toxins, helping it to penetrate through the skin and then leading to destruction of internal organs like the lungs and bones.

Researchers believe the growing staph epidemic in remote communities is related to poor skin health (resulting in frequent antibiotic use) and poor quality, overcrowded housing. Skin disease means more open sores through which staph can enter the blood stream and issues of housing quality (without adequate washing and bathing facilities) and hygiene assist its rapid spread. Controlling the staph epidemic in remote Aboriginal communities will involve better housing, concerted community education strategies, and medical research discovery. Menzies seeks support for the latter.