I'm sure everyone else thinks the big news today is the announcement by the Washington State Health department requiring hospitals to report MRSA cases to the state. I think the cool news is their on-line database. We'll get to that a bit later.
What is MRSA?
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's a serious pathogen that causes skin infections and greater damage if it enters the body.
The Seattle Times report - a quick summary
For the past three days the Seattle Times has been running a series on hospital-acquired cases of MRSA. According to the report, 6 out of 7 people with MRSA were infected in a health-care facility.
[11/20/2008 note: I edited the link above to use the permanent link]
One of the interesting points made by the Times is that testing patients can minimize some of the problems. For example, testing patients before surgery would identify people with MRSA living on their skin. Those people would be at much greater risk of MRSA infection and should be handled with special precautions.
According to the Times, however, hospitals have resisted testing patients for MRSA despite studies showing that this information can help in controlling the spread of infections.
Hospitals will have to report cases, but they won't have to test for MRSA
The newly announced decision by the state health department will be helpful in requiring hospitals to report cases, but it doesn't go far enough. Hospitals still won't be required to test patients for the presence of the bacteria.
Patient advocacy groups are pushing for reform
Our current financial crisis has reminded us that institutions can have difficulty policing themselves. In the case of MRSA, former patients are pushing hospitals to start doing the right thing. Some of these groups are the MRSA survivors network, the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, and the Consumers Union.
Search the Seattle Times MRSA database
I think the most interesting piece from this report is the Seattle Times on-line MRSA database.
If you're going to be hospitalized in Washington state, you can search the database and find out about the number of MRSA cases in that hospital.
You pick your hospital from a menu, select your county, and click the Search button.
The Seattle Times already wrote about Harborview, so I decided to see the data for the University of Washington Medical Center.
The database report showed that UW has 450 beds, and in the past ten years, a total of 620 cases of MRSA. It would have helpful to know the average number of patients that are seen at the UW each year, but it's impressive enough to see a newspaper making an on-link database like this and opening it up to the public.
The data from UW are below.
It's also important to remember that UW doesn't test all their patients for MRSA, so we don't really know all the patients who had it, we only know about some of them.
Until hospitals really start to measure the number of patients with MRSA, it will be difficult to know the number really changes.