Hospitals getting better at preventing MRSA
November 25th, 2013
04:00 PM ET

Hospitals getting better at preventing MRSA

Severe MRSA infections have decreased by 54.2% in U.S. hospitals since 2005, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggesting efforts to combat the deadly superbug are working.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of staph infection. While about one in three people carry staph on their skin, usually without getting sick, studies show approximately two in 100 people carry MRSA.

MRSA is called a "superbug" because it is one of the bacterial infections that has developed a resistance to commonly-used medications. The CDC attributes the rise of superbugs to the overuse of antibiotics in the general population.

Since 2005, the CDC has been tracking MRSA cases in nine cities across the United States. An estimated 80,400 invasive MRSA infections occurred in 2011, compared to about 111,200 in 2005, according to the public health organization. The results were published in one of the American Medical Association's scientific journals, JAMA Internal Medicine.

Doctors classify MRSA infections into two types: skin and soft tissue infections, and invasive - i.e. in the bloodstream - infections. Invasive infections are more severe, and therefore more likely to result in hospitalization or death. Most invasive MRSA infections occur in people who have recently been in the hospital or another health care setting, such as a nursing home, said Dr. Raymund Dantes, lead author of the CDC report and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.

"We found that two-thirds of these infections developed in the first three months of discharge, suggesting that patients are at higher risk of MRSA in the first three months after leaving the hospital," Dantes said.

That risk is lower than it used to be, though. Invasive infections occurring in what the researchers call "health care-associated" community populations dropped nearly 30% between 2005 and 2011.

In the past decade, the CDC has worked with medical professional organizations to publish guidelines for preventing health care-related MRSA infections, Dantes said. State and local health systems have also implemented procedures to reduce patients' risk. For example, more hospitals are requiring staff to use additional protective measures, such as gowns and gloves, when treating MRSA-infected patients to prevent the bacteria from spreading to another patient.

"I like to tell my patients to watch your doctors, nurses and other providers to be sure they are cleaning their hands when they enter your room," Dantes said. "I personally don't think it's rude to remind them if they forget."

The next step for the CDC, Dantes said, is to work on reducing infections that start in patients after they leave a health care facility. Further research is needed to understand how MRSA is transmitted during this period, he said.

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