Researchers downplay MRSA screening as effective infection control intervention

October 23, 2008

Three Virginia Commonwealth University epidemiologists are downplaying the value of mandatory universal nasal screening of patients for MRSA, arguing that proven, hospital-wide infection control practices can prevent more of the potentially fatal infections.

In a report published in the November issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the team, composed of internationally acclaimed epidemiologists Richard P. Wenzel, M.D., Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., and Michael B. Edmond, M.D., of the VCU School of Medicine, said "hospitals get more bang for their buck with evidence-based infection control prevention."

Some states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, California and New Jersey, are mandating universal nasal screening for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in hospitalized patients. MRSA is a strain of Staph bacteria that does not respond to penicillin and related antibiotics, but can be treated with other drugs.

"The key safety question today, since it is possible to reduce the total risk of hospital infections by half with a broad-based infection control program, is what is the incremental benefit of a component focusing on a single antibiotic-resistant pathogen?" said Wenzel.

Using epidemiological principles and focusing on deadly bloodstream infections, the team modeled a focused-screening program that was assumed to be effective in reducing MRSA rates by 50 percent and compared it to a hospital-wide program designed to reduce the rates of all infections by half.

According to Wenzel, chair of internal medicine at the VCU School of Medicine and immediate past president of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, MRSA infections cause only 14 percent of hospital infections, and investing huge resources into their control would be less effective than implementing programs that would reduce the burden of all infections by 50 percent.

Also in the model, the MRSA screening was inferior to the general infection control programs, preventing fewer infections, fewer deaths and was also less effective in reducing years of life lost from infections. The MRSA screening tests have false positives – leading to the isolation of patients who are non-MRSA carriers – as well as false negatives – missing some true carriers.

Further, the cost of nasal swabbing tests for all patients in a screening program was estimated to be two to three times that of adding additional infection control nurses for a broad infection control program.

The authors acknowledge that there are some instances in which MRSA screening and topical antibiotic treatment of nares of carriers may add incremental benefit to a hospital wide, evidence-based program. For example, in a patient going for open heart surgery who is a MRSA carrier, a post-operative infection would be devastating.

Wenzel and his colleagues' broad perspective is that a focused screening program would have made more sense in the late 1980s and early 1990s since MRSA was the key in antibiotic-resistant pathogen. However, in the last 15 years hospitals are facing multiple bacteria with broad resistance (Vancomycin-resistant enterococci, imipenam-resistant pseudomonas, totally drug resistant Acinetobacter and others), and efforts need to be broad based with a goal of reducing the overall burden of infections.

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University

Explore further: New findings detail how beneficial bacteria in the nose suppress pathogenic bacteria

Related Stories

Experimental antibiotic treats deadly MRSA infection

June 13, 2016

A new experimental antibiotic developed by a team of scientists at Rutgers University successfully treats the deadly MRSA infection and restores the efficacy of a commonly prescribed antibiotic that has become ineffective ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.