2007-10-31 / Health Care

MRSA Is Old Germ With New Twist

BY ANN SOUKERAS

taph infections, such as staphylococcus aureus, have plagued

mankind since the beginning of

recorded time. Prehistoric man used herbs and poultices to treat infection. In the 1920s, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, a kind of mold that produces antibacterial chemicals. Antibiotics, as they came to be called, have been used extensively to treat any and all infections since that time. Until recently, it was generally thought that serious infections had all but been eradicated, but as a result of the over-use and misuse of these extremely useful drugs, they have become much less effective. Germs have developed that are resistant to the standard drugs previously used. Newer, stronger antibiotics have been created to fight them, but it's only a matter of time before these germs will find a way to resist the new drugs as well.

MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus) is one of the germs that have become resistant to certain antibiotics currently used such as methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. There are other drugs to treat this infection, but they take longer to work and often need to be administered intravenously, making it necessary for patients to stay longer in the hospital. Also, since these infections are contagious, patients with MRSA need to be isolated or co-habited with other patients with the same infection. Young, healthy individuals are seldom affected by these germs as their bodies' own immune systems can often fight off the bacteria. However, the weak and elderly often have multiple ailments that compromise their immune systems.

The Center for Disease Control has been conducting a study of MRSA in nine select U.S. sites. They estimate that 94,000 life-threatening, invasive drug-resistant staph infections occurred in the U.S. in 2005 and 19,000 deaths occurred due to this same infection, most of them in healthcare settings. The highest rates were among those over 65 years of age. It also found that 85 percent of all MRSA infections were found in patients who had been hospitalized, underwent an invasive medical procedure or were confined to a longterm facility. Only 15 percent of reported infections were thought to be associated with the community. The New York State Health Department requires that hospitals and nursing homes report to them outbreaks

MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus) is one of the germs that have become resistant to certain antibiotics

currently used such as methicillin,

oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.

or increased incidence of MRSA.

Staphylococcus aureus, "staph". as it is commonly called, is often found on the skin and in the noses of healthy people. Infection occurs when the germ enters a break in the skin. The most effective way to fight the spread of MRSA as well as other infectious diseases is frequent and careful hand washing. Since these germs are transmitted by contact with the infection or with furniture and bedding that came into contact with the infection, scrupulous attention to cleanliness will often prevent the spread of the germ. Hospital workers wear latex gloves and often gowns and masks to prevent spreading these germs to other patients. It is still necessary for them to wash their hands before and after treating every patient, whether infected with MRSA or not. Visitors should also be aware of the necessity of washing their hands before leaving a patient's room in order to avoid spreading the bacteria.

All of the hospitals in the city Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) have adopted the "best practices" suggested by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. These strategies include aggressive detection of carriers, isolation of infected patients and hand, equipment and environment disinfection throughout the hospital. Since MRSA is found on so many non-infected people in the community, it would be impossible to test all patients for MRSA. Those at highest risk for developing the infection, patients in the intensive care unit, surgical patients and the chronically ill will be tested. Also, alcohol based hand sanitizers have been placed in all patient rooms. Most hospitals in New York as well as the nation have adopted the same or very similar standards to battle this devastating infection.

Hopefully, with scrupulous attention to these "best practices", MRSA can be controlled in the healthcare setting and the community.

Due to a number of inquiries New York Hospital Queens has received regarding MRSA, the hospital is hosting a news briefing on Thursday, November 1 at 10 a.m. James Rahal M.D., Director of Infectious Disease, and the hospital's infectious disease medical staff will address the concerns raised, the risks involved and the mounting public fears involving this infection.

A special edition of HEALTHLINE at www.nyhq.org/absnl2/t.aspx?n=130&l=104 contains more details on the news briefing and general information on MRSA. For more information about New York Hospital Queens, visit www.nyhq.org. New York Hospital of Queens is located at the corner of Booth Memorial Avenue and Main Street in Flushing.

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