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Preventing Hospital-Acquired Infections: Patients Must Be “Safety Partners”

This is a guest post by Dr. Julia Hallisy.

Serious infections are becoming more prevalent and more virulent both in our hospitals and in our communities. The numbers are staggering: 1.7 million people will suffer from a hospital-acquired infections each year and almost 100,000 will die as a result.

When our late daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with an aggressive eye cancer in 1989 at five months of age, our life became consumed by doctor visits, MRI scans, radiation treatments, chemotherapy — and fear. My husband and I assumed that our fight was against the ravages of cancer, but almost eight years later we faced another life-threatening challenge we never counted on — a hospital-acquired infection. In 1997, Kate was infected with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the operating room during a “routine” 30-minute biopsy procedure to confirm the reoccurrence of her cancer.

Kate’s hospital-acquired infection led to seven weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit on life support, the amputation of her right leg, kidney damage, and the loss of 70 percent of her lung capacity. While most infections are not this serious, the ones that are often lead to permanent loss of function and lifelong disabilities. In the years since Kate’s infection, resistant strains of the bacteria have emerged and now pose even more of a threat since they can be impossible to treat with our existing arsenal of antibiotics.

Patients afflicted with MRSA will often have to contend with the threat of recurrent infections for the rest of their lives. These patients live in constant fear of re-infection and often struggle with feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. Family members, friends, and co-workers may not fully understand the facts and have nowhere to turn for education about risks and prevention. Loved ones may worry unnecessarily for their own safety, which can cause them to distance themselves from someone who desperately needs their presence and support.

We have the knowledge and the ability to prevent a great number of these frightening infections, but the busy and fragmented system in which healthcare is delivered doesn’t encourage adequate infection control measures, and patients continue to be at risk. A significant part of the problem is that the public doesn’t receive timely and accurate information about the detection and prevention of MRSA and other dangerous organisms, and they aren’t engaged as “safety partners” in the quest to eliminate infections. Read more »

Doctors’ Garments And Bacterial Contamination

This colorized 2005 scanning electron micrograph depicts numerous clumps of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, magnified 2,390 times. Content provided by CDC/Jeff Hageman, MHS, via the CDC's Public Health Image Library (PHIL)Bacterial contamination of physicians’ newly laundered uniforms occurs within three hours of putting them on, making them no more or less dirty than the traditional white coats, researchers reported.

Researchers sought to compare bacterial and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus contamination of physicians’ white coats to freshly laundered short-sleeved uniforms, and to determine the rate at which bacterial contamination happens. They reported results in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

ACP Internist‘s blog recently took up the debate as well. The issue has cropped up over the years, assessing not only the cleanliness but the professionalism inherent in the white lab coat.

Researchers conducted a prospective, randomized, controlled trial among 100 residents and hospitalists on an internal medicine service at Denver Health, a university-affiliated public safety-net hospital. Subjects wore a white coat or a laundered, short-sleeved uniform.

At the end of an eight-hour workday, no significant differences were found between the extent of bacterial or MRSA contamination of infrequently-washed white coats compared to the laundered uniforms. Sleeve cuffs of white coats were slightly but significantly more contaminated than the pockets or the midsleeves, “but interestingly, we found no difference in colony count from cultures taken from the skin at the wrists of the subjects wearing either garment,” researchers wrote.

And, there was no association found between the extent of bacterial or MRSA contamination and the frequency with which white coats were washed or changed. Colony counts of newly laundered uniforms were essentially zero, but after three hours they were nearly 50 percent of those counted at eight hours.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

How To Prevent An Infection From Your Pet

Can your dog give you MRSA? Sharing with your dog is wonderful — unless you’re sharing bacteria. Pets can harbor harmful germs to pass on to you.

Staphylococcus bacteria is a common cause for skin infections in people and animals. A virulent strain of staph, called MRSA, has made headlines for school outbreaks and fatal infections. MRSA infections are usually blamed on dirty locker rooms and contaminated gym clothes, but the source for an infection might be in your lap right now.

Here are five ways to avoid catching an infection from your pet:

1. Your pet’s mouth is not clean. It’s teeming with bacteria. Don’t let your pet lick your wounds. A dialysis patient once contracted a life-threatening pasturella bacteria infection from his beautiful golden retriever this way.

2. Keep open wounds covered. Contact between your wound and your pet could spread bacteria such as MRSA. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

Developing New Antibiotics: Thinking Beyond Bacteria Resistance

44s3uqhhro.jpgBacteria may be having a renaissance. Back in the days of the discovery of penicillin, doctors gleefully handed out antibiotics like they were candy and patients were more than happy to munch them down. They were quite effective too, but bacteria rapidly became resistant.

Doctors and scientists worry that we are approaching a time where if we don’t come up with novel antibiotic mechanisms, we will face an epidemic of untreatable bacterial infections. MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylcoccal auerus, is probably one of the biggest fears.

John Rennie wrote about this issue in the PLoS blog The Gleaming Retort. He describes two strategies scientists are using to try to come up with new weapons in the great antibacterial war. So, naturally one of the first things they turned to was cockroach brains. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

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