An ointment used to treat common childhood skin infections is driving the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
New research has found growing use of the topical antibiotic fusidic acid is the cause behind the emergence of a new multi-drug-resistant strain of hospital superbug.
Researchers say the finding is a stark warning that urgent measures are needed to curb antibiotic use.
Clinical microbiologist Dr Deborah Williamson from the University of Otago is presenting research on the findings at the Australian Society for Infectious Diseases conference in Auckland today.
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Dr Williamson said the use of the topical antibiotic fusidic acid had risen dramatically as had a rise in cases of staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterial skin infection which causes boils, school sores and crusty ulcers.
But the frequent use of the ointment is fuelling a rise in infections resistant to fusidic acid, and a multi-drug-resistant strain of staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
MRSA is a superbug that cannot be treated with antibiotics, making minor infections and injuries potentially deadly. People most at risk are often elderly or very sick hospital patients.
The study found a genetic link between fusidic acid resistance and methicillin resistance, which explained how use of the antibiotic was causing the increase in MRSA.
"The capacity to treat serious infections is really becoming less in all parts of the world," Dr Williamson said.
"Without urgent action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill."