More than 50,200 non-antibiotic compounds were tested for their reactions to MRSA. Among them, Kao found that after being injected with M-21 the bug exhibited significantly lower luminescence. “This indicated that M-21 hinders MRSA from producing toxins,” he said.
To Kao, S.aureus is a stealthy enemy. About one-third of people worldwide have some in their nose or on their skin. This pattern of coexistence is decades old, but the pathogen rarely attacks the host.
Staph infection only happens when the bacteria penetrates the body, either through a break in the skin or through the digestive or respiratory tracts. The infection causes damage ranging from minor skin lesions to more serious conditions such as pneumonia or endocarditis, an infection of the heart‘s inner lining.
In 2009, Ho Pak-leung, honorary consultant at Hong Kong’s Queen Mary Hospital, confronted an intimidating MRSA infection.
A 42-year-old man who had A-type swine flu (aka H1N1) acquired MRSA in the community — known as CA-MRSA — and died two days after being admitted to the hospital.
“We treated him using aggressive medications, but they were of no help,” Ho recalled. “The patient died of pneumonia.”
MRSA not only destroyed lives, it drove up medical costs, mainly due to patients’ prolonged stays in hospital. According to a 2013 California study, the average hospital cost was around $14,000 per MRSA case, around twice the cost of other hospital stays.
Before, most MRSA occurrences emerged from hospitals or healthcare institutions, where the risk of infection was higher, and were identified as hospital-associated MRSA, or HA-MRSA.
Though Hong Kong’s first official CA-MRSA case was recorded in 2004, Ho said the first case actually occurred in March, 2001, when an 8-month-old boy who displayed a number of severe illnesses died 26 hours after being hospitalized.
Since then, Ho, chairman of the Health Protection Program for Antimicrobial Resistance at the Centre for Health Protection, has been monitoring and observing the transmission of the superbug.
Ho, a close colleague of Kao, is an avid researcher. He contributed to Kao’s non-antibiotic study, and both men believe the overuse of antibiotics has helped S.aureus develop resistance to many of them.
In the first half of this year, Hong Kong saw 632 CA-MRSA infections, according to the Center for Health Protection, more than twice the number reported during the whole of 2008.
According to a recent survey, about 49 percent of 1,200 people questioned in the city said they took antibiotics last year, up from 34.6 percent in 2011.
In a separate study, 97.9 percent of 1,255 interviewees said they