Published: 16/09/2004, Volume II4, No. 5923 Page 6 7

The scientist at the centre of tabloid stories on MRSA says that newspapers have 'sensationalised' his findings, although he claims that his company's tests are more accurate than those carried out by the Department of Health.

Speaking to HSJ, Dr Christopher Malyszewicz conceded that tabloid stories claiming the MRSA bacteria levels were as much as 300 times above the 'safe level' in one trust were inaccurate, given there was no official safe level.

Instead, newspapers had devised their own baseline from Chemsol's findings that hospitals had on average between 0.3 and 0.5 colony-forming units per square centimetre.

'They [the tabloid articles] are designed to be informative; they are not really scaremongering.

Newspapers are newspapers, but they are stories that have to be partly sensationalised. There are certain wordings that have been put in that I haven't quoted. That is the way papers are; the media likes to put stories up to their greatest heights - they've got to get readers.'

Dr Malyszewicz's tests examine the amount of MRSA on a ward.

But his critics argue there is no clear relationship between the general extent of MRSA in a hospital environment and the prevalence of MRSA infections in patients.

'If you have got a hospital that has a high MRSA rate in patients, It is going to have a high contamination rate throughout the ward - surfaces included. In logical terms, it [his critics' claim] is very wrong.

IfIt is prevalent in the first place the chances of infection are increased, ' said Dr Malyszewicz.

He claimed that his method - which uses contact slides - allowed him to detect not just the type of organism on a surface, but also the extent of it.

And Dr Malyszewicz insisted his methods are more accurate than standard hospital samples, which 'tend to swab a bed or a patient and then put it on to a petri dish, which is a double-handling procedure. That means the counts can be lower.'

He said Chemsol's test identified what is known as 'coagulase positive' and 'coagulase negative' strains of MRSA, although he did discount the negative strain from his results. There were two explanations as to why his results and those of the DoH were so different, added Dr Malyszewicz.

'Number one is their sampling method: how are they sampling?

Number two: when do they do their sampling? We tend to do our sampling late evenings when there are high levels of visitors around and we know the spread of MRSA is pretty prevalent.'

He said the bug would spread rapidly after a visitor shook an infected patient's hand or kissed them goodbye. Dr Malyszewicz, who works independently, said he had asked the DoH what it regarded as a safe level of MRSA but had received no response. 'I just turned around and said zero tolerance should be the case, then.'

He said he accepted contributions from some of the tabloids although he had offered his services free of charge to others.