American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A new weapon against hospital-acquired MRSA infections

The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can live on our skin and in our noses without causing disease. Such a condition is called bacterial colonization, to contrast it from infection in which the bacteria causes illness. When the skin is broken or when host immunity is weakened S. aureus can enter the blood stream or other body spaces and cause life-threatening infection. Because medical procedures frequently involve puncturing or cutting the skin, S. aureus accounts for more health care-associated infections than any other germ.

That would be bad enough, but one strain of S. aureus, called methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), has developed resistance to many of the antibiotics most commonly used against Staph infections, making it particularly difficult to treat. Controlling the spread of MRSA in health-care settings has become a national priority. Many hospitals have implemented programs to remind staff to wash their hands before and after contact with patients and to identify and isolate patients colonized with MRSA. Hospital-acquired MRSA infections have actually declined in recent years, perhaps due to these efforts, but in 2011 they still affected 62,500 patients and killed more than 9,000.

ICU patients are especially vulnerable to life-threatening hospital-acquired infections, for two reasons. First, they are the sickest patients in the hospital and their immune system is frequently not working well. Second, they undergo many invasive procedures that cause potential portals of entry for infection. Some hospitals screen all patients (or all ICU patients) for MRSA by swabbing their nose. Those who test positive are then placed under contact isolation. They are moved to a private room and all staff must don gloves and a disposable gown prior to coming into contact with them. Nine states have mandated by law such MRSA screening and isolation procedures.

But is this the best way to protect hospitalized patients from MRSA infection?

Other hospitals have stepped up their MRSA efforts even further. They screen all patients for MRSA. Those who test positive are isolated and also undergo decolonization, an attempt to kill the MRSA on their skin and in their nose. This is usually done with an antibiotic gel that is placed in the nostrils and antibacterial wipes that are used to clean the patient's skin.

Last week the New England Journal of Medicine published a very clever experiment that tried to elucidate the best way to minimize ICU-acquired MRSA infections.

Rather than randomize patients, they randomized whole hospitals. 43 hospitals were randomized to three different MRSA strategies for their ICU patients. Hospitals in the first group employed the traditional screen-and-isolate strategy. All ICU patients were screened for MRSA and those who were found to be colonized were placed under contact isolation. The second group used a screen-and-decolonize strategy. All ICU patients were screened for MRSA and those who tested positive were placed under contact isolation but also underwent decolonization with the antibiotic nasal gel and the antibacterial skin wipes. The third group had the simplest strategy: universal decolonization. Their ICU patients did not get tested for MRSA. Instead, all the patients were decolonized with the antibiotic nasal gel and the antibacterial skin wipes.

Hospitals in the third group had the fewest MRSA infections. They also had the fewest blood-borne infections from any germ. That makes sense given that the antibacterial wipes would be expected to kill many pathogens, not just MRSA. The authors calculated that 181 patients would need to undergo decolonization to prevent one MRSA infection, and 54 patients would need to undergo decolonization to prevent one bloodstream infection from any pathogen.

Besides being the most effective, universal decolonization had another important advantage; it eliminated the need for swabbing everyone's nose. This eliminated the expense of doing all those tests for MRSA and also eliminated the delay of waiting for the test result, since decolonization could proceed immediately.

Occasionally fortune smiles on us and the simplest solution turns out to be the most effective. The practicality of this approach makes it possible to implement it in virtually any hospital immediately.

There are some possible drawbacks. The most serious is that universal use of the antibiotic nasal gel and the antibacterial skin wipes could eventually lead to bacterial resistance to either of them. If they were to be used universally, some program to test for resistance should be also implemented. But a more immediate hurdle is that eliminating screening for MRSA would run afoul of state law in nine states.

An editorial in the same issue of NEJM states: "[T]he folly of pursuing legislative mandates when evidence is lacking has been shown, and laws mandating MRSA screening should be repealed."

That is indeed a worthy goal. If this were generalized to the repeal of all "legislative mandates when evidence is lacking", the effects of this study would be revolutionary.

Learn more:
Winning the MRSA Battle in Hospitals (Well, New York Times health blog)
New Tack in Preventing Hospital Infections (Wall Street Journal)
Disinfect All ICU Patients To Reduce 'Superbug' Infections (Shots, NPR health blog)
Targeted versus Universal Decolonization to Prevent ICU Infection (NEJM article, by subscription)
Screening Inpatients for MRSA — Case Closed (NEJM editorial, by subscription)

Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000. Holding privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he is also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA's Department of Medicine. This post originally appeared at his blog.

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Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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