More than 1,000 cases of almost-untreatable superbugs were reported in Australia in the 12 months to March this year.
- Superbugs are resistant to "almost everything"
- Authorities concerned about spread of gonorrhoea
- Nursing homes singled out as having high proportion of superbugs
For the first time, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has tracked dangerous bacteria resistant to the last line of antibiotics.
Senior medical adviser Professor John Turnidge said authorities could now track the spread of superbugs, almost in real time.
"These are superbugs which are resistant to almost everything," he said.
What surprised authorities was the drastic increase in treatment-resistant gonorrhoea, which accounted for more than 60 per cent of the superbugs.
This particular strain can no longer be killed by the antibiotic azithromycin.
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection that has the potential to cause meningitis, and infertility in women.
"What worries us is that the single agent left for treating patients might fail and the disease spread," Professor Turnidge said.
There was a three-fold increase in numbers of treatment-resistant gonorrhoea reported in both New South Wales and Western Australia throughout 2016.
CPE: The superbug that poses a 'serious threat'
Before this new tracking began, the most common superbug was carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae, known as CPE.
It has been described as an almost-untreatable superbug, which poses a serious threat to patients.
"We found CPE is now endemic across the eastern seaboard of Australia and we also found new strains of CPE superbugs from overseas," he said.
"This means that it is difficult to eliminate, and rigorous control measures are essential."
It's not known how many patients may have died from CPE in Australia.
In February 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed CPE as one of the 12 bacteria that pose a threat to humans.
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Nursing homes are hotbeds for superbugs
Nursing homes were singled out as having a high proportion of superbugs.
Professor Turnidge said authorities have long suspected such facilities were reservoirs for superbugs.
"We are getting a clinical picture that upwards of 40 per cent of superbug strains resistant to last-line antibiotics are found in nursing homes, so it's a pretty important issue," he said.
He said health experts were now working on how to tackle the problem.
"We've got a lot of work to do and there are thoughts that we may need higher standards of infection control," he said.