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State to keep track of MRSA cases

SEATTLE – Using a newly adopted federal health coding change, the state Health Department plans to start tracking infections of the potentially deadly drug-resistant bacteria known as MRSA.

The department announced Tuesday that as of December, hospitals in the state will be required to report all patient cases linked to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Health officials also told the Seattle Times they need $768,000 to identify MRSA outbreaks in hospitals, schools and workplaces, to determine which strain of the germ is responsible, and to devise a strategy to eradicate it. The new hospital reporting requirement is part of that strategy, state Health Secretary Mary C. Selecky said.

The Times reported this week that MRSA is spread mostly at health care operations and has grown in frequency at hospitals in the state from 141 cases a decade ago to 4,723 last year.

The newspaper also reported that at least two hospitals put patients with MRSA in rooms with patients who were not infected, potentially placing the uninfected patients at risk.

“We’ve learned a lot, and obviously we have a lot to learn,” Selecky said.

MRSA is spread by touch or contact and can slip through small breaks in the skin, typically causing surface infections that are easily treated but occasionally get into the blood and prove fatal.

For the past 12 years, hospitals in the state have submitted monthly reports giving coded diagnostic and treatment information on hospitalized patients, but there were no codes for MRSA.


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