News | June 24, 2007

High Staph Infection Rates in Hospitals Stun Public Health Officials

June 25, 2007 — Drug resistant breeds of staph bacteria are far more prevalent among hospitalized patients in the United States than previously thought, according to a new survey by an organization of nurses and technicians who specialize in infection control.

The study screened patients in hospitals and long-term care homes to detect MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is not only resistant to common antibiotics, but kills patients at 2 1/2 times the rate of more drug-susceptible staph germs.

In a survey of 1,237 hospitals and other residential health care centers such as nursing homes, researchers found that 3.4 percent of patients were infected with MRSA -- a rate 8.6 times greater than estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC epidemiologists estimated the rate at 0.4 percent in 2005.

Unseen until the late 1970s, MRSA now accounts for between 50 and 70 percent of all staph infections acquired in U.S. hospitals, and new strains of the bug have taken hold outside the health care setting, afflicting otherwise healthy individuals with "spider bite" boils that are difficult to treat, often recur, and can become life-threatening blood infections.

The latest study was conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology, or APIC, an organization whose 11,000 members include nurses charged with keeping infections out of the health care setting.

It is estimated that each year 2 million Americans become infected during hospital stays, and at least 90,000 of them die. MRSA is a leading cause of hospital-borne infections.

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