NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 27, 2007

As concern over antibiotic-resistant infections grows, some hospitals are aggressively screening patients with new tests that can rapidly detect one of the most problematic bugs.

Several hospitals say the effort, though expensive, is paying off, in part because they can quickly isolate patients carrying the strain to help prevent its spread.

  • After six months of testing every patient entering Newark Beth Israel Medical Center's intensive-care unit, officials say the new tracking regime has helped it slash new infections by methicillin-resistant staphylococcus bacteria to nearly zero, and cut the proportion of intensive-care patients carrying the bug to 10 percent from 33 percent.
  • Similarly, the University of Maryland Medical Center says early results from its own surveillance efforts suggest it is preventing enough costly infections to pay for itself.

Staph infections are common in health-care settings, but the spread of drug-resistant strains is particularly worrisome because they are hard to treat and can quickly become deadly in patients whose immune systems are already under strain.

  • Methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA, has become increasingly common, making up more than 60 percent of hospital staph infections in recent years, up from 2 percent in the mid-1970s.
  • The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 126,000 people are hospitalized with MRSA infections each year and about 5,000 die, with an annual price tag totaling $4 billion a year.

"It's clear that MRSA infections are on the rise," says John Jernigan, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC in Atlanta.

Source: Theo Francis, "Hospitals Crack Down on Deadly Infections; New Testing Allows Facilities To Quickly Identify Carriers; The Hand-Washing Problem," Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2007.

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