Bacterium May Have Killed 19,000 in 2005

By Matthew Harwood

Via The New York Times:

Nearly 19,000 people died in the United States in 2005 after being infected with a virulent drug-resistant bacterium that has spread rampantly through hospitals and nursing homes, according to the most thorough study to be conducted of the disease’s prevalence.

The study, which was published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that invasive infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or M.R.S.A., may be twice as common as previously thought, according to its lead author, Dr. R. Monina Klevens. If the mortality estimates are correct, the number of deaths associated with M.R.S.A. each year would exceed those attributed to HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, or homicide.

By extrapolating data collected in nine locations, the researchers established the first true baseline for M.R.S.A. in the United States, projecting that 94,360 patients developed an invasive infection from the pathogen in 2005 and that nearly one of every five, or 18,650 of them, died.

Scarier yet, the researchers, who work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say that 85 percent of the time the disease is spread during hospitalization when bacteria is transported from patient to patient by doctors, nurses, and unsterile equipment.

CDC guidelines published last year recommend that hospitals upgrade their hygiene policies such as simply ensuring hospital employees wash their hands to protect patients from M.R.S.A. Critics, according to The Times, argue that patients should be tested for the bacteria upon admission. If found infected, the patient would be quarantined. The CDC recommends screening high-risk patients only after all other methods fail, fearing sequestered patients will receive poorer treatment.

To read the JAMA article, click here.


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