For those who are insured and very ill, the hospital is where one would go to seek intensive health care. However, despite the great help hospitals can provide for the ill, they can also provide a host of devastating infections that collectively contribute to the fourth leading cause of death in the United States- hospital acquired infections. Of these infections, over half are attributed to MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus), commonly known as “staph”.
How does this happen? There is more than one answer. The bacteria itself has become multi-drug resistant because of an abuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics can be prescribed for things like colds or viruses, which should never be treated with antibiotics. People also misuse them by not taking them the correct way, which is until the medication is completely gone. Instead, some will take the medication until they feel better, which leaves only the strongest (and most antibiotic resistant) bacteria left in the body. This bacteria can then multiply, creating a strong, drug-resistant strain of bacteria.
In addition, patients in the hospital usually have compromised immune systems, which make them more susceptible to staph infections.
Pathology: Staph bacteria lives on about one third of the population. However, in about half of these people the infection is not active, making them carriers of the bacteria. The nature of the bacteria itself is scary in the medical community because it is resistant to most antibiotics. Essentially, it is a “super bacteria” which has evolved to be resistant to most forms of antibiotics, making it very difficult to treat. For the ill or elderly, staph can result in serious skin infections and tissue infections, or a terrible form of pneumonia.
Because of its highly contagious nature, MRSA can be spread by health practitioners hands, bed rails, remote controls, bedside telephones…anything that an infected patient touches can spread MRSA.
Symptoms: Staph infections usually begin as little bumps or boils which turn into deep, pus-filled abscesses that ultimately require surgical draining. These abscesses can quickly travel into the heart, lungs, and other vital organs in the body.
Treatment: Currently, the only form of treatment is antibiotics. However, since MRSA is resistant to so many types of antibiotics, doctors must prescribe the strongest kind, including vancomycin. Unfortunately, there are several cases of MRSA that are resistant to even the strongest antibiotics, which leaves no successful treatment.
Morbidity (# of individuals affected): Over 100,000 life-threatening deaths are reported by the CDC
Mortality (# of deaths): It is estimated that about 20,000 deaths in the hospital are from MRSA…this is higher than the annual number of death from AIDS
Statistics (from newly published CDC Study):
- While most MRSA infections could be traced to a hospital stay or some other health care exposure, about 15% of invasive infections occurred in people with no health care risk
- Two-thirds of the 85% of MRSA infections that could be traced to hospital stays or other health care exposures occurred among people who were no longer hospitalized
- People over age 65 were 4 times more likely than the general population to get an MRSA infection. Incidence rates among blacks were twice that of the general population, and rates were lowest among children over the age of 4 and teens
Prevention: As this is becoming an increasing Public Health concern, advisories have been made to try and enhance infection control to the highest level possible. This includes sterilizing hospital equipment, hospital beds, and health care professionals washing their hands after any contact with patients.
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