Staph Redux:Why we Keep Getting Bugged,Part I

It takes tragic news of rare sporadic fatal Staph cases, like the 12 year old student in Brooklyn and the high school student in Virginia to ignite public awareness of a serious public health problem.Two weeks ago the Government announced that over 19,000 Americans died last year, after being infected with an organism commonly found on the skin and in the nose of unsuspecting healthy people, Staphylococcus aureus. This bacterium, carried by almost a third of the population is itself rarely a serious public health problem, but a super-Staph called methicillin resistant staph aureus or MRSA Staph, which has developed antibiotic resistance, though carried by only 1% of healthy people, is indeed a major health menace. The vast majority of fatal cases counted by the Government, occurred not among the healthy population, but were acquired in patients subsequent to being hospitalized.

Yet a year ago I wrote about hospital-acquired infections in my newsletter after the State of Pennsylvania gave alarming statistics on life-threatening infections acquired after patients are admitted to Pennsylvania hospitals.The report, though 15 years behind several Western European countries, was the first in the United States to disclose actual number of infections reported by hospitals. Fifteen others states also require hospitals to report infection data, although, curiously, not all of them have plans to make the data public. Pennsylvania hospitals reported over 19,000 cases of hospital-acquired infection, 2.2% of all admissions, The combined mortality rate for patients with a hospital-acquired infection was 13%, more than five times the mortality rate for patients without a hospital-acquired infection.

Staph, in particular methicillin resistant or MRSA Staph is among the most common causes of hospital-acquired infections (HAI). Staph does not cause infection until it enters the body, but any carrier once admitted to hospitals spreads staph around such that it is found almost everywhere including personnel, dishes, bedrails, toilets, towels, medical instruments, clothes, furniture, trays, etc. In 1974 only 2% of staph infections were resistant to methicillin; called “methicillin resistant Staph aureus” or MRSA. Today, over 60% of staph infections are MRSA’s, i.e., resistant to the antibiotic because of widespread and irresponsibly inappropriate use of antibiotics over the last three decades.

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