October 21, 2010

US Tops UK In MRSA Infections

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which mocks or imitates antibiotics, seems to be thriving better in the United States than in the UK, according to new government data.

The data shows that Americans are more than six times as likely to contract the superbug in the community as Britons. Although, data shows that hospital infection rates are about the same.

"This is the first time we compared rates of MRSA bloodstream infections between US and England," Dr Fernanda Lessa, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told Reuters Health.

MRSA was first discovered in the UK and didn't make it across the Atlantic until several years later.

In 2005, it was estimated that MRSA caused severe infections in nearly 95,000 Americans, killing more than 18,500 of them.

According to new data, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, about 29 in 100,000 people in the US contract MRSA infection every year, compared to only 11 in 100,000 Britons.

When the data was taken only from infections presumed to be acquired outside of hospitals, the difference was even bigger: 22 per 100,000 in the US and 3.5 in the UK.

The study used data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UK Health Protection Agency.

The study found that more than three-quarter of Americans with public-onset MRSA had been in recent contact with the healthcare system. Infected Americans were twice as likely as Britons to have been on dialysis, and they more commonly had diabetes or a had a central IV line inserted by a healthcare worker.

The difference in both medical care and patient type between the two countries are important, researchers say. More patients are on dialysis for renal failure in the US than in the UK, and the CDC reported in 2007 that MRSA infections were 100 times more common in such patients than in the general population.

Journalist Maryn McKenna, who published a book -- SUPERBUG -- about MRSA earlier this year, said it was unclear where the bacteria that attack dialysis patients come from.

"We don't know whether they have a hospital strain from a healthcare institution or if they are carrying a community strain that only enters the body when the skin is broken," McKenna told Reuters Health.

MRSA can be carried on a person's skin or nostrils without infecting them and making them sick. But once the skin is pierced by a healthcare provider inserting an IV line, the bacteria gets easy access to the blood. Or they could jump to other patients with compromised immunity systems.

McKenna said the US was lagging behind European countries in terms of infection control.

Some European countries, including the Netherlands, have been screening people for MRSA before admitting them to hospitals. If they carry the bug, they are quarantined so they won't infect the general population.

Some US hospitals have recently implemented such a system as well, but they are few and far between, said McKenna.

Over the past ten years US hospitals have introduced several measures to try to control the spread of MRSA, such as requiring staff to wash their hands with soap before inserting catheters and IV lines into patients.

The measures seem to be helping. According to a CDC report earlier this year, it found that hospital MRSA infections had dropped since 2005.

Lessa agreed that "great strides have been made in reducing rates of MRSA bloodstream infection in United States hospitals," but the success needs to be expanded.


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