EXPERTS are helping three Scottish health boards address the number of patients catching bloodstream infections, including a surge in cases caused by the superbug MRSA.

A report has highlighted an increase in rates of serious illness triggered by the bug staphylo­coccus aureus (SA), which is known for becoming resistant to antibiotics and can be hard to treat.

Levels of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, have fallen dramatically in Scotland since 2006. However, hundreds of patients still contract bloodstream infections from SA every year.

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Health Protection Scotland (HPS) revealed there were 424 SA cases in the last three months of 2013 - an increase of 11.9% on the previous year.

Of these, 53 patients had the superbug variety and the MRSA rate for Scotland was 4.2, up 1.4% on 2012.

Dr Oliver Blatchford, consultant in public health medicine for HPS, said: "The situation with MRSA bacteraemia (bloodstream infection) cases is really a success story. Although there have been small fluctuations in MRSA, in this last quarter, I think it is just a random fluctuation of numbers."

However, three health boards, NHS Fife, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Dumfries and Galloway have sought assistance from HPS, according to Dr Blatchford. In Fife the MRSA rate was 10.35 - more than double the Scottish average.

David Livingstone, NHS Fife infection control manager, said rates of bloodstream infections with SA were above the Scottish average at the end of last year, adding: "While half of these SABs arose in the community and so would have been difficult to prevent, NHS Fife investigates the source of every case and has established programmes of work to target the most frequent risks for SABs in a healthcare setting.

"As a result of progress with this work, case numbers for January-March this year have fallen to less than half those in the previous three months."

In the Greater Glasgow and Clyde cases of SA bloodstream infections rose during the last six months of last year. The board said its figures had previously been at an all-time low, the increase was quickly identified and not related to a particular hospital department.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Following the previous all-time low level for MRSA bacteraemia last quarter, it is disappointing the number of cases have increased, although the overall numbers remain relatively small."