Despite increased awareness of the prevalence and virulence of the potentially deadly, drug-resistant staph germ known as MRSA, hospitals in Washington and across the nation may not be doing enough to combat the problem, infection control workers said.
An informal survey of about 2,100 infection specialists, including some in Spokane, showed that half of the experts thought their institutions could or should do more to prevent and control methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
More than 40 percent of those responding to the national poll released last week said no new prevention measures had been implemented in the past six months.
Most said they lacked time, money and administrative commitment to address the spread of the bacteria estimated to be 10 times more common than once thought, according to APIC, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Still, nearly 60 percent said they are adopting or have adopted new measures to deal with the germ that spreads through touch and can lead to life-threatening internal infections.
That certainly is the case at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, where staff members recently implemented aggressive hand hygiene programs and active surveillance of MRSA in an intensive care unit.
“We’ve been so active in this,” said Kathy Caldero, the hospital’s infection control coordinator. “And we started a year ago, too. It was kind of nice to know that we were already addressing the issues.”
Since October, Sacred Heart staffers have screened 421 ICU patients without previous histories of MRSA. Of those, 23 were either infected or colonized with the bacteria, while 21 were inconclusive, Caldero said. That means that about 5 percent of new ICU patients harbored the drug-resistant germ.
A June survey by APIC of patients in hospitals and nursing homes nationwide found the drug-resistant bacteria present in 46 of 1,000 patients.
“We like to think our survey was the real wake-up call to provide the additional resources or support,” said Kathy Warye, chief executive officer of the infection control agency.
The follow-up poll released last week was sent to APIC’s 11,000 members. About 20 percent responded, which Warye said was a statistically sound sample. Responses included 57 from infection control workers in Washington state.
An October study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association raised further concerns about MRSA with estimates that more than 94,000 people nationwide suffered serious infections in 2005 and nearly 19,000 died.
“I would say that it is increasingly prevalent and increasingly virulent,” Warye said.
Increased attention to MRSA, particularly in cases that occur in schools, sparked a wave of public alarm this fall.
In Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire has convened a panel of scientists to recommend strategies for coping with MRSA and other multidrug-resistant organisms. She’s also asked the state’s clinical laboratories to start reporting invasive cases of the germ.
Like other health leaders, APIC’s Warye recommends that people use common sense to cope with the threat.
“It’s not an issue where they should panic,” she said. “They should be informed and educated in terms of the community. We advise a very basic set of precautions: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.”