This report presents nationally consistent information on cases of Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia (SAB) associated with Australian hospitals. It contributes to ongoing robust national and jurisdictional arrangements to monitor and reduce SAB.

The report presents national information on cases of SAB associated with care provided by Australian hospitals for the period 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017. It also includes summary data for the previous 4 years. The data were provided by states and territories and selected private hospitals to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). SAB performance information for individual Australian hospitals is available on the AIHW’s MyHospitals website.

What is Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia?

SAB is a type of infection often associated with healthcare. It occurs when Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (‘Golden staph’) cause an infection of the bloodstream (bacteraemia). When associated with healthcare procedures, these infections are considered to be potentially preventable. The national definition of a SAB case is outlined in Box 1.

Patients who develop bloodstream infections such as SAB are more likely to suffer complications that result in longer stays in hospital, and the most serious infections can result in death. They also result in potentially unnecessary increases in the cost of hospitalisation.

The bacteria causing SAB are frequently found on the skin or in the nose of many individuals and are commonly spread from person to person in the community. In this form, they are usually harmless and most people are unaware that they are carrying them.

In hospitals, transmission is most commonly via the hands of healthcare workers. Bacteria from the patient’s skin or from the hand of a healthcare worker can gain direct entry into the patient’s bloodstream if they have open wounds or when intravascular devices, such as central or peripheral venous catheters, are inserted.

Who is at risk?

Patients who have a greater risk of infection than the general public are those with:

  • open wounds
  • invasive devices such as catheters
  • weakened immune systems (associated with cancer, or with transplant receipt, or with being very young or elderly)
  • chronic disease such as diabetes or severe underlying illness
  • prolonged or recurrent exposure to antibiotics.