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MRSA rates decline steadily in one procedure

Wed., Feb. 18, 2009

Study ray of hope for controlling staph superbug

Bloodstream infections caused by methicillin-resistant “Staphylococcus aureus,” or MRSA, have dropped 50 percent in the last decade, at least for one high-risk medical procedure, according to a new study.

The finding, although limited to a single procedure in the intensive care units of hospitals surveyed – insertion of a central line, or catheter, into a major blood vessel – runs contrary to the widespread perception of MRSA as an out-of-control hospital superbug.

“This study shows that at least in one facet of health-care-associated infections, things seem to be moving in the right direction, and that’s a good thing for patient safety,” said study coauthor Dr. John Jernigan, an epidemiologist at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Are we all the way there yet? No.”

The finding is published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

MRSA catapulted to the general public’s attention two years ago when infectious disease experts estimated that the antibiotic-resistant bacterium causes 19,000 deaths a year and that 85 percent of the infections are contracted in health-care settings such as nursing homes, dialysis centers and hospitals.

Many states have passed laws since then aimed at stopping MRSA and other health-care-associated infections, prodded by patient safety advocates. Such measures include screening patients on admission for the bacterium, isolating those found to be infected and publicly posting hospital infection rates.

Hospital and physician groups generally have opposed such laws as neither cost-effective nor scientifically proven.

The authors of the new study, all CDC researchers, said that the decline in central line-associated infections was under way before such laws were passed.

A central line is a catheter, or tube, inserted into one of the main blood vessels close to the heart. It is used to administer medications and monitor blood and heart pressures. Inserting this and other devices, such as urinary catheters or ventilator tubes, puncture the skin’s protective barrier and allow microbes that may be harmless on the outside into areas where they can cause harm.

The new study was drawn from data on central-line bloodstream infections reported voluntarily to the CDC from more than 1,600 intensive care units.

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