Hospital bug may be more common

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ATLANTA - A dangerous drug-resistant staph germ might be infecting hospital patients at about 10 times the rate health officials had previously estimated, according to a new comprehensive study.

At least 30,000 U.S. hospital patients might have the superbug at any given time, according to a survey released today by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

Some federal health officials said they had not seen the study and could not comment on its methodology or its prevalence. But they were happy to see added attention to the problem.

"This is a welcome piece of information that emphasizes that this is a huge problem in health-care facilities and more needs to be done to prevent it," said Dr. John Jernigan, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At issue is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which cannot be tamed by certain common antibiotics. It is associated with sometimes-horrific skin infections, but it also causes blood infections, pneumonia and other illnesses.

Past studies have looked at how common the superbug is in specific patient groups, such as emergency-room patients with skin infections in 11 U.S. cities, dialysis patients or those admitted to intensive care units in a sample of a few hundred teaching hospitals.

It's difficult to compare prevalence estimates from the different studies, experts said, but the new study suggests the superbug is eight to 11 times more common than some other studies have concluded.

The new study was different in that it sampled a larger and more diverse set of health-care facilities. It also was more recent than other studies, and it counted cases in which the bacterium was merely present in a patient and not necessarily causing disease.

The infection control professionals' association sent surveys to its more than 11,000 members and asked them to pick one day from Oct. 1 to Nov. 10, 2006, to count cases of the infection. They were to turn in the number of all the patients in their health care facilities who were identified through test results as infected or colonized with the superbug.

The final results represented 1,237 hospitals and nursing homes, or roughly 21 percent of U.S. inpatient health-care facilities, association officials said.

The researchers concluded that at least 46 out of every 1,000 patients had the bug.

There was a breakdown: About 34 per 1,000 were infected with the superbug, meaning they had skin or blood infections or some other clinical symptom. And 12 per 1,000 were "colonized," meaning they had the bug but no illness.

Most of the patients were identified within 48 hours of hospital admission, which means, the researchers believe, that they didn't have time to become infected to the degree that a test would show it. For that reason, the researchers concluded that about 75 percent of patients walked into the hospitals and nursing homes already carrying the bug.

"They acquired it in a previous stay in health-care facility, or out in the community," said Dr. William Jarvis, a consulting epidemiologist and former CDC official who led the study.

The study is being presented this week at the association's annual meeting in San Jose, Calif., but it has not been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal.


What is it? The superbug known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a potentially fatal germ that cannot be tamed by certain common antibiotics.

How is it spread? The germ can be spread through skin-to-skin contact or shared items such as a towel.

Where is it? It is usually found in health-care settings where people have open wounds.

How is it treated? The infection can be treated with other antibiotics. Health-care workers can prevent spread of the bug through handwashing and equipment decontamination, by wearing gloves and gowns and by separating infected people from other patients.

- Associated Press

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mable8 06/25/07 - 05:47 am
This is really OLD news; it

This is really OLD news; it has been well-documented for over a decade that staph infections in hospitals cause a disproportionately high number of deaths. That is WHY medical professionals need to PRACTICE UNIVERSAL PRECAUTIONS--which they don't always do. That is why fingernails are not supposed to extend over 1/4" from the end of the finger and fake nails are a "no-no". But, you see violations every day; and you see a waste of money "researching" the causes of staph infections. Why doesn't the medical field find a better way to police their own and enforce Universal Precautions? Believe me, I have seen nurses and doctors fail to wash their hands between visits to patients; and I have seen the fake nails, all decorated as if they were "french" nails or deco art--just a matter of time before you make another person ill with a deadly infection.


keepinitreal 06/25/07 - 07:18 am
So it's sounds simple to me

So it's sounds simple to me that if it takes washing the hands several more times a day when in a health care facililty is called for to keep the germ from developing and spreading more then, so be it. If there is an antibiotic that will cure the germ then, the pharmacies should stock up, and if the health care providers will wear the gloves after washing their hands will help then, put them on and change them after each patient is seen. Even though this comment is not about health care facilities, but I take it too be something in relation to it. I have been to drive through's and seen the person who cooks have on the same gloves to take money from the customer and then go back to cooking. Imagaine how many people were probably infected with only who knows what kind of germs from those kind of places.

WorriedAboutOurFuture 06/25/07 - 02:42 pm
A relatively simple way to

A relatively simple way to contain this bug is to screen patients before they enter the hospital for elective procedures and use universal precautions on non-elective/ ermegency admissions until those patients have been shown free of MRSA. Hospitals that have instituted this practice have seen as mcuh as a 90% drop in MRSA cases. MCG doesn't do this. No fence at the clifftop but an ambulance at the bottom.

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