NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 14, 2006

What kills more than five times as many Americans as AIDS?  Hospital infections, which account for an estimated 100,000 deaths every year.

Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which are calling for voluntary blood testing of all patients to stem the spread of AIDS, have chosen not to recommend a test that is essential to stop the spread of another killer sweeping through our nation's hospitals: M.R.S.A., or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.  The CDC guidelines to prevent hospital infections, released last month, conspicuously omit universal testing of patients for M.R.S.A., says Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and the founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.

That's unfortunate, she says:

  • Research shows that the only way to prevent M.R.S.A. infections is to identify which patients bring the bacteria into the hospital.
  • The M.R.S.A. test costs no more than the H.I.V. test and is less invasive, a simple nasal or skin swab.
  • Staph bacteria are the most prevalent infection-causing germs in most hospitals, and increasingly these infections cannot be cured with ordinary antibiotics.
  • Sixty percent of staph infections are now drug resistant (that is, M.R.S.A.), up from 2 percent in 1974.

Some people carry M.R.S.A. germs in their noses or on their skin without realizing it.

The bacteria do not cause infection unless they get inside the body -- usually via a catheter, a ventilator, or an incision or other open wound.  Once admitted to a hospital, these patients shed the germs on bedrails, wheelchairs, stethoscopes and other surfaces, where M.R.S.A. can live for many hours.

In this country, M.R.S.A. hospital infections increased 32-fold from 1976 to 2003, according to the CDC.

Source: Betsy McCaughey, "To Catch A Deadly Germ," New York Times, November 14, 2006. 

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