MRSA a Growing Threat to Public Health, But CDC Won’t Mandate Testing in Hospitals

MRSA, a drug resistant infection, has health officials scrambling for answers. In the past, when someone was infected with staph, the cure was simple: A few doses of penicillin. This is no longer the case and fears of mutation and an antibiotic resistant superbugs are now a reality. <"">MRSA is one of those superbugs.

A mutated form of staph called MRSA has emerged and, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort. Formerly used in the most potent cases, this drug is being used more and more and, as a result, MRSA is developing resistance to this last successful medication.

Infectious diseases become resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse. When antibiotics are used for a virus, such as the common cold, they have no effect. But people want antibiotics and doctors will prescribe them. Well, bacteria want to survive. And they do. We prescribe antibiotics; bacteria learn to adapt. We overuse or misuse antibiotics; bacteria mutate, changing just enough to ensure antibiotics have no effect on them and giving them a wide berth to spread with ever more power. Although tempting, preventative antibiotic regimes only worsen the epidemic and strengthen the bacteria. And while new MRSA drugs are emerging, it’s just a matter of time before the superbug will become resistant to them, too.

Last year alone, 94,000 Americans developed MRSA with most of them infected in healthcare facilities. Previously limited to hospital and nursing home patients, MRSA is now striking and killing in communities. Recent deaths have included five school children and infections in schools are now in the dozens. MRSA also infected players from four NFL teams, some NYC firefighters, and seems to strike people who are in close physical contact. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates place last year’s MRSA death toll at 19,000 Americans, with 2,000 of these people—healthy people—contracting community-based MRSA.

But there is hope. MRSA is a fully preventable disease and very treatable in early stages. Testing and screening is quick, painless, and inexpensive: A simple nose swab is all it takes.

With early and proper diagnosis—when there is a small eruption on the skin and before MRSA reaches the bloodstream—the infection is easily treated with general-purpose antibiotics, the sore is bandaged and kept clean, and the infection is cured. There is no down time and patients can resume activities with no risk of falling ill or contaminating others. Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, the infection spreads rapidly and can lead to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart. Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs.

The CDC says that drug-resistant infections in hospitals have to be fought with multiple strategies: Better hospital hygiene, enhanced cleaning, and MRSA testing. A handful of U.S. hospitals routinely screen and test for MRSA and have found it to be very effective, with one study showing a 50-percent infection reduction. Three states and the Veterans Administration have also ordered MRSA screenings. But the CDC says that testing alone is not sufficient and will not order screenings. The overarching feeling is that the CDC is discounting significant and growing evidence indicating that aggressive hospital testing could significantly cut down the spread of hospital-generated MRSA. Given that the epidemic started with hospital-generated MRSA and with nearly 100,000 MRSA cases last year—20% ending in death—this seems a legitimate course of action. But the federal government, specifically the CDC, will not mandate this step.

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