Hospital cases of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have risen 33-fold during the past ten years in Washington state, yet our hospitals fail to identify or track cases in a systemic fashion (Seattle Times).
The Seattle Times began a three-part investigative report today describing the rise in MRSA incidence, the consequences for patients, and the failure on the part of our hospitals to take measures to address the problem.
According to the Seattle Times, six out of seven people get MRSA infections at some kind of health care facility. The spread could be contained if health care providers knew which patients carried the bacteria. But hospitals claim that the $20 per patient cost to test for MRSA would be too expensive, is unnecessary, and too burdensome.
Some hospitals fear lawsuits. If they screened every patient, results would show who already had the germ upon admission -- and who picked it up while in the hospital. Patients could then blame the hospital for their infections.
Yet MRSA infections pose considerable danger to patients. Usually, skin is an effective barrier. The bacteria could live on your skin unnoticed throughout your life without causing any problems, but once it gains entry to the body, through a surgical procedure, or other kind of wound, the infection is difficult to control. Some patients in the Times story describe permanent disabilities resulting from MRSA, many others have died. According to the Times, there were at least 672 deaths from MRSA infections that were attributed to another cause.
[My note: the Times didn't specify the time period here, it's not clear if this was over the last ten years or during a shorter period.]
It's an interesting article.
Micheal Berens and Ken Armstrong, How our hospitals unleashed a MRSA epidemic, Seattle Times, 11-16-2008