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Background In the past, strains of Staphylococcus aureus have evolved, expanded, made a marked clinical impact and then disappeared over several years. Faced with rising meticillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA) rates, UK government-supported infection control interventions were rolled out in Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust from 2006 onwards. Methods Using an electronic Database, the authors identified isolation of MRS among 611 434 hospital inpatients admitted to acute hospitals in Oxford, UK, 1 April 1998 to 30 June 2010. Isolation rates were modelled using segmented negative binomial regression for three groups of isolates: from blood cultures, from samples suggesting invasion (eg, cerebrospinal fluid, joint fluid, pus samples) and from surface swabs (eg, from wounds). Findings MRSA isolation rates rose rapidly from 1998 to the end of 2003 (annual increase from blood cultures 23%, 95% CI 16% to 30%), and then declined. The decline accelerated from mid-2006 onwards (annual decrease post-2006 38% from blood cultures, 95% CI 29% to 45%, p=0.003 vs previous decline). Rates of meticillin-sensitive S aureus changed little by comparison, with no evidence for declines 2006 onward (p=0.40); by 2010, sensitive S aureus was far more common than MRSA (blood cultures: 2.9 vs 0.25; invasive samples 14.7 vs 2.0 per 10 000 bedstays). Interestingly, trends in isolation of erythromycin-sensitive and resistant MRSA differed. Erythromycin-sensitive strains rose significantly faster (eg, from blood cultures p=0.002), and declined significantly more slowly (p=0.002), than erythromycin-resistant strains (global p<0.0001). Bacterial typing suggests this reflects differential spread of two major UK MRSA strains (ST22/36), ST36 having declined markedly 2006-2010, with ST22 becoming the dominant MRSA strain. Conclusions MRSA isolation rates were falling before recent intensification of infection-control measures. This, together with strain-specific changes in MRSA isolation, strongly suggests that incompletely understood biological factors are responsible for the much recent variation in MRSA isolation. A major, mainly meticillin-sensitive, S aureus burden remains.

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BMJ Open

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