MRSA Thrives in Overcrowded Hospitals

Austrian researchers reported Monday what many have long suspected:  Overcrowded hospitals that quickly push patients home may be helping in the spread of deadly, drug-resistant germs.  According to the researchers, who reviewed several studies on the issue, hospitals filled to capacity are likelier to have outbreaks of <"">methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other infections.

Dr. Michael Whitby of Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane and colleagues reported that this problem will continue and will only worsen as populations grow and people live longer.  “The drive towards greater efficiency by reducing the number of hospital beds and increasing patient throughput has led to highly stressed health-care systems with unwelcome side-effects,” they wrote in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Also, numerous studies reveal that doctors, nurses, and other health care workers neither wash their hands as well nor as frequently as recommended.  This under and insufficient washing only worsens when hospitals experience understaffing and high workloads.  Overcrowded hospitals also face challenges in isolating patients with MRSA and other dangerous infections.

The study found that in Australia, the number of public hospital beds per person fell by 40 percent between 1982 and 2000, while 14 percent more patients were treated.  In other developed countries—Great Britain, the United States, Canada—similar trends were seen according to the researchers who added that hospitals tend to treat patients in one day as opposed to treating them as inpatients.  “Workforce aging is also a problem—in the (United States), average-age of nurses has increased from 37.4 years in 1983 to 46.8 years in 2004,” they wrote.

Last year alone, 94,000 Americans fell seriously ill after developing MRSA with most infected in healthcare facilities.  Previously limited to hospital and nursing home patients, MRSA is now spreading 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.  Center of 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.

MRSA infections can range from boils to more severe infections of the bloodstream, lungs and surgical sites and is spread by the hands and on contaminated medical equipment.  The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology reported last year that nearly five percent of U.S. patients were infected or colonized with MRSA.

MRSA is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort when not treated properly.  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.  And while new MRSA drugs are emerging, it’s just a matter of time before the superbug will become resistant to them, too.  Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, the MRSA 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.

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