HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania - August 25 - Consumers Union is calling on hospitals across the country to take more aggressive steps to protect patients from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) - related infections in light of a new Pennsylvania study documenting the serious financial and health costs associated with such infections.
The report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) is the first in the nation with statewide statistics on hospitalizations of patients with MRSA. The Pennsylvania agency found 13,722 patients with MRSA, based on 2004 data, the latest available. MRSA patients are four times more likely to die and stayed in the hospital two and a half times longer than patients without the antibiotic-resistant infection. Hospital charges for patients with MRSA were three times higher than charges for patients without the infections.
"The prevalence of MRSA in every hospital in the U.S. poses a very serious health risk to patients who are unwittingly exposed to these superbugs," said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Stop Hospital Infections campaign. "Unfortunately, most hospitals do not even know which patients have MRSA and are failing to follow strategies and precautions proven to keep these germs in check."
The PHC4 report does not distinguish between community- and healthcare-acquired MRSA infections. While community-acquired MRSA infections are becoming increasingly common, recent CDC sponsored research shows that 80-91 percent of such infections are picked up in the hospital or other health care setting.
MRSA infections have become resistant to most common antibiotics, though they generally respond to intravenous vancomycin. It is mainly spread in hospitals by contact with unwashed hands or contaminated gloves. According to the National Quality Forum, studies show that hand washing compliance rates in hospitals are generally less than 50 percent.
While strict hand washing is the fundamental strategy for prevention, health care experts at a recent Boston meeting on MRSA agreed that multiple actions must be taken to effectively curb MRSA. Successful "bundles" include screening high risk patients with active surveillance cultures, using gowns/gloves/masks when treating these patients ("barrier precautions"), aggressive compliance with hand hygiene and other precautions, and routine decontamination of the hospital environment (patient rooms and operating rooms). This type of approach has been endorsed by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) and is the subject of long-awaited guidelines from CDC, but most hospitals do not follow it.
Hospitals that do follow this protocol have documented very impressive results. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has reduced MRSA in several of its intensive control units by 90 percent and similar results have been documented at the University of Virginia Health System. Hospitals in the Netherlands have used these strategies to successfully control MRSA for decades.
"For years now, hospital officials have watched as MRSA rates have climbed and more and more patients have suffered from these superbugs," said McGiffert. "It's time for hospitals to start following infection control procedures proven to minimize the spread of MRSA. There should be zero tolerance for these infections because these are human lives at stake, not just numbers."