Medical laboratories in Spokane and across Washington will begin reporting the most serious cases of MRSA this month, offering health officials new insight into the prevalence of the potentially deadly drug-resistant bacteria.
Starting Dec. 17, most of the state’s 117 clinical labs will document invasive cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a germ that has become increasingly hard to treat with front-line antibiotics.
The question of what to do with that information will be considered by an 18-member panel of scientists convened at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The group includes one member from Spokane, Ann Robinson, director of microbiology and virology for Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
The chief task of the panel, which meets for the first time Friday, will be to decide whether to recommend required reporting of MRSA and other multi-drug-resistant organisms, said Dr. Robert Thompson, president of the Infectious Disease Society of Washington and co-chairman of the group.
“The question is: Is there reason to make it a notifiable condition?” Thompson said Wednesday. “Sometimes, simply collecting statistics will not result in any meaningful outcome.”
The group will also discuss the best ways to treat cases if monitoring is approved.
“I think it will be lively,” said Jude van Buren, assistant secretary for epidemiology with the state health department. “There is going to be a difference of view about what might be the right strategies.”
Gregoire has asked the panel to report back by Jan. 10 and the start of the next legislative session, when she expects the question of MRSA surveillance to become an issue.
Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, has drafted a bill that would make MRSA a notifiable condition. He had asked the governor to declare a public health emergency that would require MRSA reporting.
Increased public concern about the common bacteria spiked this fall, after scientists estimated that more than 94,000 people came down with serious MRSA infections in 2005 and nearly 19,000 died.
MRSA often shows up as a minor skin infection, treatable with good hygiene and wound care. But if the bacteria invade the body and lodge in vital organs, the lungs or the bloodstream, the infection can turn deadly.
Most MRSA infections are detected in people who have been hospitalized or had surgery within a year. About 85 percent of infections occur in hospital settings, with about 14 percent occurring in the community. However, the number of community-acquired infections is growing, sometimes causing serious infection or death in previously healthy people.
The panel charged with advising the governor includes representatives from medicine, public health, Medicare and Medicaid, academia, insurance companies and the state hospital association.
For a list of panel members, visit www.doh.wa.gov.
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