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Thursday, Jun 13, 2024

Rise in superbug contamination in popular dishes, Hong Kong study finds

Rise in superbug contamination in popular dishes, Hong Kong study finds

Centre for Health Protection also finds lack of public awareness about use of antibiotics and threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Dishes popular among Hongkongers have been found to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as superbugs, at a higher rate this year, according to a study released by the Centre for Health Protection.

The centre on Thursday also published its findings from a survey conducted last year that revealed a lack of public awareness about the use of antibiotics and the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

The agency reported that 35 per cent of samples of lo-mei were contaminated with a bacteria called Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (ESBL-E) in 2021-22, up from 14.3 per cent in the previous year and nil in 2018-19.

According to the centre, 35 per cent of samples of lo-mei were contaminated with the bacteria.

Some 7.7 per cent of the samples of siu-mei were found to have ESBL-E, an increase of 2.3 per cent compared with 2020-21 and zero in 2018-19.

For Japanese delicacy sashimi, the bacteria was detected in about 18.4 per cent of the samples, up from 10.5 per cent in 2020-21 and 12.9 per cent in 2018-19.

Siu-mei and lo-mei are Chinese delicacies containing processed meats. The former mainly includes roasted meats and the latter is braised and soaked in a large amount of seasoning sauce.

In general, raw or undercooked foods are more easily contaminated by drug-resistant bacteria than cooked items.

But William Chui Chun-ming, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, said bacteria could still grow after food had been cooked.

“It is not related to the cooking process. It is about the storage of the foods,” said Chui, who also sits on the centre’s expert committee on antimicrobial resistance.

He said a common source of microbiological hazards was contaminated containers or utensils.

Chui warned not to take ESBL-E lightly. “The bacteria can be life-threatening for immunocompromised people, such as elderly residents, or people with chronic diseases,” he said.

William Chui, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong.

The centre also found a lack of public awareness about the use of antibiotics and the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Slightly less than half of the 1,076 respondents correctly answered that the common cold and flu should not be treated with antibiotics, while only 44.1 per cent were aware that bacteria resistant to antibiotics was contagious.

Only about one-fifth of the respondents followed health advice found on medicine bags, such as washing hands frequently, disinfecting and covering wounds and ensuring children avoid contact with others if they were sick.

Dr Wilson Lam, an infectious disease specialist, called for more public education about antibiotics.

“The centre’s survey shows the presence of resistant bacteria has become more common, even in foods. Every one of us should play a role in helping to stop it,” he said.

He also advised people to maintain good hygiene when handling food to reduce the chances of it being contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Last November, the government launched the Hong Kong Strategy and Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2023-2027 to increase public awareness about the proper use of antibiotics and good hygienic practices when handling food.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria or viruses evolve to become resistant to previously effective drugs. This leads to infections which are harder to treat and an increased risk of further spread.


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