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MRSA Fight Hindered by Lack of Hand Washing in Hospitals

Jun 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP MRSA is a deadly, mutated form of staph infection that has become resistant to most antibiotic forms of treatment and is rapidly spreading into the general public.  Stopping the spread of methicillan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—MRSA—has been a challenge that has all but consumed the nation’s healthcare system.  Once seen chiefly in hospitals, MRSA is now striking healthy people outside of hospitals and nursing homes and has emerged as a community-based—as opposed to hospital-derived—disease.  Among community-based patients, over 20 percent were dead within one year, according to research conducted at McGill University Health Center, Montreal, Canada.

Over 2,000 infection experts who responded to an MRSA survey conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) recently met at a national conference to discuss MRSA; the APIC was the first to notice the prevalence of MRSA was at least eight times higher than previously estimated.  One of the specific issues discussed was how to reduce MRSA when colleagues are unwilling to wash their hands.  “They’ll know somebody is watching and they still won’t wash!” said Kathy Bryant, a registered nurse and infection control director at Spartanburg Regional Hospital in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The majority of respondents reported that their hospitals and health care centers have done more educate and enhance procedures; however, over half said that facilities are not taking sufficient measures to reduce MRSA risks.  The infection experts—Infection Preventionists—said more effort is called for to address basic germ prevention precautions such as adequate hand hygiene among first-line professionals such as doctors, nurses, and other health workers as well as steps to ensure a sanitary environment.  “It’s the areas where they have the greatest issues in compliance,” said Kathy Warye, APIC’s chief executive officer. “It needs to become a routine part of care instead of an interruption in care.”

Shockingly, a variety of studies confirm under half of all US health workers wash as often required, a point of frustration among the over 4,000 conference attendees.  “It doesn’t matter if it’s God himself or the governor or whoever, you have to wash up,” said Rebecca Peters, an infection control staffer at York Hospital in York, Pennsylvania.

The infection preventionists confirmed they experience resistance when trying to implement infection control standards and point to a number of issues such as too little time, too many patients, inconvenience, and low paid staffers not understanding or implementing appropriate and consistent procedures.  Bryant added that her fire marshal limited the number and placement of hand sanitizer dispensers over fears the alcohol-based gel could be a fire hazard, a move that adversely impacted infection control measures.

According to Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures for 2005, nearly 19,000 people died in the US from MRSA; an additional 94,000 were seriously sickened.  Of the 19,000 patients studied in 2005, 2,000 were healthy people contracting community-based MRSA.  In Canada, about 220,000 people are sickened and an additional 8,000-12,000 die annually.  Patients surviving MRSA often require amputations to cure infections.  MRSA has infected players from four NFL teams, some NYC firefighters, and has infected or killed a growing number of school children.

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