Hospitals: Staph Infections Are Rampant

The Chicago Tribune reports that 1.2 million hospital patients are infected with dangerous drug-resistant staph infections every year—10 times more than previously estimated according to a new study. The paper also reported that 48,000 to 119,000 hospital patients a year may be dying from methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, far more than previously thought. Great!

The Tribune obtained the results during the weekend from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology (APIC), which is releasing the report publicly on Monday. The author is Dr. William Jarvis, former acting director of the hospital infections program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings come amid mounting public concern about the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in health-care facilities and community settings. Medical experts consider the rise of so-called superbugs such as MRSA, a leading cause of deadly blood infections and pneumonias, one of the most alarming public health threats in the nation.

“We’re hoping this survey is a wake-up call to health-care workers across America,” said Kathy Warye, the association’s executive officer.

It is the largest, most comprehensive survey of MRSA in health-care facilities to date. It’s based on surveys sent last year to 10,000 infection-control practitioners, including doctors and nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities.

Hear that, heath-care workers? Wake up call. The good news is that much can be done to stop the spread of the bug:

All health-care workers should practice rigorous hand-washing, and all institutions should have robust programs for disinfecting medical equipment and patients’ rooms, he said. When patients are known to have MRSA, hospital staff should wear gowns and gloves to prevent transmission. And patients deemed at risk of carrying MRSA should be screened to determine where bacterial hot spots are festering.

“Now that the true extent of this scandalously tragic epidemic is known, I hope that health-care leadership will finally confront it with the effective means that have always been available,” said Michael Bennett, president of the Coalition for Patients’ Rights in Maryland.

We love it when there is hope.

Staph infections rampant [Chicago Tribune]

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  1. [www.uexpress.com]

    WEEK OF JUNE 24, 2007
    Please note the first item under “Can’t Possibly Be True”

    The Good Hope Hospital in Sutton, England, apparently had an official policy in recent years of reusing sheets from one patient to the next to reduce its laundry bill (estimated at the equivalent of $1 million a year), according to an April report in London’s Daily Mail. The policy coincided with a period in which the hospital’s reported cases of clostridium difficile infections doubled. (A hospital official said the policy had been discontinued, though some posters announcing it were on display.) [Daily Mail (London), 4-13-07]

    That’s in England but still…this might be more than a lack of handwashing.

  2. olderbudwizer says:

    This stuff is dangerous! There are only a few antibiotics that MRSA responds too, not always successfully. My wife contracted MRSA two years ago and had to have her leg amputated after the 42-day intravenous treatment failed. She was bad sick – it nearly killed her.

  3. sunchief32 says:

    I work in the health care industry at the patient care level and I can tell you it’s a problem my institution takes seriously. The blame, however, lies with us all. Frequent trips to the Dr’s office demanding antibiotics has created these super resistant organisms. Anyway, make sure you see your nurses and doctor’s wash their hands. It’s really that simple most of the time.

  4. Art Vandelay says:

    Yet another answer to the question of why consumer confidence is down. Anything to save a dollar, I suppose.

  5. bonzombiekitty says:

    My mom contracted MRSA from the hospital she works at (she’s a nurse), the infection returned about three times, and she had to have two operations.

  6. TechnoDestructo says:

    Death penalty for not following directions on antibiotics, or for overprescribing them.

    And any country that refuses to institute this policy gets nuked.

    If you never want to see shit like this happen again, it’s the only way.

  7. 160medic says:

    @bonzombiekitty: WOW…!! “The infection returned ABOUT 3 times” What did it change its mind and turn around on the third trip? ha ha

  8. WannaGetMatzoBalled says:

    Another thing I read about– do you notice all these health care workers wearing scrubs everywhere and on the street, buses, subway and then at work? No way is that clean….

  9. Transuranic says:

    Wow, so – if we kill off the 99% of [germs, bugs, enemies] who are weak, we’ll just make room for the strong ones to reproduce? If we stop using DDT so much, the mosquitoes who succumb to it will re-emerge, allowing us to effectively use it once in a while?

    Please tell me is wasn’t just population geneticists who knew this.

    What hospitals need are an environmental reboot, with a good dose of regular ol’ DIRT. Let them not have every surface sterilized for a while: my bet is that the bad staph will die out (there’s a reason it’s not common in the first place, right?) and be replaced by regular ol’ staph, which we can kill. Does *every* patient in the place need everything sterile all the time?

  10. TalbotD says:

    A century ago American hospitals were simple, grim and without the technology to do much for their patients — but they were scrupulously CLEAN and safe from common infections.

    That previously dominant medical custom & culture is long gone. Most hospital common areas are “cleaned” by minimum-wage workers with little incentive or equipment to thoroughly disinfect anything. A typical hospital floor-mopping just moves the dirt around… and things like door-knobs, furniture, carpets, routine medical equipment are rarely disinfected… despite heavy contact with sick & infected people.

    It’s wise to avoid hospitals as much as possible if one has a choice.

    Modern technology could solve the problem at reasonable cost… certainly clean hospitals should be higher priority than a Trillion Dollars spent on space exploration.

    No bacteria or virus can exist on a dry surface with an ambient humidity less than 10% — how hard would it be to develop specialized hospital environmental disinfection systems that could achieve those conditions once or twice a day — and easily kill all those germs ?

  11. Boo says:

    I don’t think that it is just over prescribed antibiotics. Think about all of the antibacterial soap, cleaners, tissues, etc that people use constantly.

    What I have learned after a couple of surgeries is to get out of the hospital as fast as possible to avoid infection or death by improper medication.

  12. miket59 says:

    I am a Doctor, and in fact I have a great deal of experience with MRSA and its epidemiology. Here are a few interesting points:
    1. Based on personal experience (no data to back this up), I would say the number of people carrying MRSA is much, much higher than 1.2 million.
    2. The way they screen for MRSA is by swabbing a patient’s nose (where it loves to grow) and culturing it, but only after the person has been in the hospital for a certain number of days. People who are only in for a short stay or surgery never get tested, but they can easily catch the bug.
    3. MRSA is no longer just a hospital acquired infection. It is now seen in people who were never hospitalized, and can cause just as severe an illness.
    4. The treatment for MRSA colonization (even with no symptoms) includes oral antibiotics, strict hand and clothes washing, and showering with a very harsh, foul smelling soap.
    I agree that it is everyone’s job to stop the spread of this and other multidrug resistant micro-organisms. The best thing to do is use the alcohol gel provided at most hospitals after touching ANYTHING, but especially after being in a patient’s room.

  13. medcat2010 says:

    Nothing new. When I started working in micro lab in 2002, MRSA was already a big problem. And hand washing has always been a problem. Now we’re starting to see VRSA (vancomycin-resistant) from the aggressive treating of the MRSA….

  14. inboulder says:

    It’s not really about hand washing or janitorial staff or antibiotic use, though of course those issues play a part. These microbial populations are highly adapted to take advantage of humans in hospital environments. Hospitals are not designed disable biofilms etc, there are too many place for the bacteria to hide. I think the only solution in fighting VRSA is a radically different type of hospital design, perhaps multiple small buildings that periodically get flushed with alcohol, chlorine, and strong UV lights and then repopulated with strong non-human colonizing bacteria.

  15. jamst149 says:

    I’m a student nurse. Hand washing is a huuuuuge deal. You would be amazed how many old school Dr’s and Nurses don’t wash their hands between making contact with different patients. Nowadays they indoctrinate us with handwashing at every turn so by and large the young Dr’s and nurses are much better at these sorts of things.

    In my hospital, when a patient has MRSA (it’s often detected in pt’s nostrils via a simple nasal swab) they are put under precautions. Anyone entering the room needs to put on a protective gown of sorts that is disposable and gloves. Of course they are to be thrown out before leaving the pt’s room. Time and time again some old Dr comes in, doesn’t put the stuff on, proceeds to sit right down on the bed, shake the persons hand and move on to the next patient. Un-freakin-believable.

  16. mandawest says:

    @Transuranic: Uh, just so you know, hospitals don’t sterilize everything. In fact, hospitals are FILTHY! Counters, floors, you’re lucky if they even get wiped down between patients. I’m an ER nurse, and I’ve worked in a few different states. It’s the same everywhere.

  17. kingoman says:

    I’m glad to see this is finally getting more press and that hospitals are admitting to the numbers instead of trying to minimize them. I guess if you kill enough people through carelessness and stupidity, eventually people notice.

    No, I’m not unbiased, this is how my mom died in 2003.

  18. k10commenter says:

    I am currently under treatment for MRSA that I contracted in a non-medical environment. It appeared as bump and swelling in the small area between the corner of my eye and my nose. My doctors aren’t really sure how I contracted the bug, but their two main theories are either from a spider bite or from swimming in a lake. I am hopefully on the path to full recovery, as we now know that the strain I have is sensitive to the current antibiotic cocktail I am on, but it has been a scary road. Point of my post is that MRSA isn’t something you can only catch in a dirty hospital or from a careless doctor – mine just came from some good ol’ summer fun at the lakehouse.

  19. etinterrapax says:

    MRSA was a huge issue in the VA hospital where I did a rotation in nursing school some years ago. It was partly that patients there have a longer stay than in a public hospital–VAs are not motivated by insurance considerations–and partly due to a population that had taken a lot of antibiotics. Handwashing is incredibly important, as well as reducing the risk of infection from patient to patient. Unfortunately, with six or eight or twelve patients per nurse in a med/surg unit, all the precautions in the world may not be enough. It’s not always a question of more this or that if you don’t want to put everyone in isolation.

    But if people would just quit the antibacterial everything and wash their hands, we’d be much better off. This is as bad with the but-but-but as budget reduction. If you’re never sick, your immune system weakens. If you aim for sterility instead of focusing on cleanliness–everyone in a medical field knows that “clean” and “sterile” are different and valid distinctions–you contribute to resistant bacteria. If only we knew how to rest and use non-pharmaceutical treatments the way that people did when antibiotics weren’t so readily available, we’d be much better off.

  20. ManMachine says:

    I work for a company that makes waterproof, dustproof and germ-resistant keyboards and mice. Our keyboards have no seams and are completely sealed, so germs and bacteria have nowhere to hide or grow. Plus, they can be cleaned with a variety of disinfectants. I think that our keyboards would work very well in hospitals and other healthcare environments in limiting the spread of MRSA. We work hard at infection control and I think that a combination of hand-washing and our products would go a long way toward stopping the spread of “Super Bugs.” I’m writing this post to make people aware of what they can do to fight MRSA. Check us out at Man & Machine Inc.

  21. mac-phisto says:

    imho, the key is transparency. do you know that most states don’t require hospitals to report statistics regarding infections contracted while in the hospital & related deaths? the only program currently in place to track these statistics is in the state of pennsylvania.

    it’s not like most hospitals are really npos anymore. we’re talking about money-making ventures that hide behind radical interpretations of the law to prevent disclosing information that should be publicly-available.

    think about it: if you knew that 1 out of every 5 people hospitalized at a specific facility contracted a staph infection, i’m pretty sure you’d be looking to take your business elsewhere. accountability = cleaner hospitals. simple as that.

  22. sallysings says:

    I don’t think any of it is going to help. Wash your hands, clean up, whatever. Stop taking antibiotics, whatever. That would stop the spread of the bugs, not the creation of new ones.

    The problem is that we eat small doses of antibiotics in our meat, chicken, eggs, milk. We feed chickens, pigs, cattle – preventive doses of antibiotics.

    We’re all doomed. :|

  23. Anonymous says:

    I have a close relative who received a hip operation at a hospital in Hackensack and 3 months later developed a staph infection. Could it take this long to “come out”? To top it off, he went back to the same hospital and had his hip replaced again and developed another infection a week later, needing yet another operation to replace the hip!! These were temporary hips. We don’t know what to do…is it the hospital, doctor, or the patient who is doing something wrong??!! This person is in jeopardy of losing his job. He has to go back for his permanent hip in May of 2009 and we are afraid to go back to the hospital/doctor. We are in need of guidance as we don’t know who to see or where to go for advice.