November 15, 2007 in City

Labs urged to report on MRSA

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane’s largest medical laboratory could begin reporting serious cases of drug-resistant staph infections known as MRSA immediately, an official said Wednesday.

The move would give state officials, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, a good idea about how common dangerous incidents of the potentially life-threatening bacteria have become, said Ann Robinson, director for virology and microbiology for the Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories.

“It’s probably what they need to do to get a handle on this,” said Robinson.

She was responding to Gregoire’s request Wednesday that state health officials ask Washington’s 70 to 80 laboratories to begin reporting serious cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA.

PAML logged about 2,200 MRSA isolates last year in the multistate region the lab serves, Robinson said. That includes nearly 700 MRSA isolates recorded at Sacred Heart Medical Center. That doesn’t account for individual cases because one person might be tested for the isolates several times.

Still, it would be relatively simple to report the most serious cases to the Spokane Regional Health District as state officials have requested. Those would be MRSA germs recovered internally, where they are most dangerous.

“It would be any invasive specimen, where you had to use a needle or knife to get to it,” said Robinson, who hadn’t yet counted the number of invasive MRSA isolates.

MRSA often shows up as a common skin infection, easily treated with good hygiene and wound care. If the bacteria invade the body, however – infecting the lungs, bloodstream or internal organs – they can cause serious illness, even death.

An estimated 19,000 people died of MRSA in 2005, according to a recent report from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Washington, about 500 people died between 2003 and 2005 of MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant infections, according to an analysis of state death certificate records.

In a letter sent to health officials Wednesday, Gregoire also directed them to convene a panel of scientists and other experts to recommend how to monitor aggressive antibiotic-resistant germs, and to work with local health agencies to educate the public about the infections that have sparked recent alarm.

Gregoire’s letter asks for recommendations on all antibiotic-resistant organisms, including MRSA, and requests a report by Jan. 10, 2008. It’s not yet clear which scientists might be tapped to join the panel, health officials said.

Gregoire has yet to reply to state Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, who sent a letter last week asking her to declare a public health emergency and immediately mandate that MRSA join a list of about 70 notifiable conditions tracked by state health officials. Campbell, who has drafted a bill for the next Legislature making MRSA a reportable infection, said he was awaiting Gregoire’s response.

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