drug-resistant bacteria top those from
19,000 fatalities a
year, study says
By Judith Graham | Tribune staff
12:53 AM CDT, October 17, 2007
Nearly 19,000 Americans died in 2005 of
invasive infections caused by
bacteria—more than were killed by AIDS,
according to a new study in the Journal
of the American Medical Association.
The report, written by experts at the
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, is the latest research to
note the alarming spread of methicillin-resistant
staphylococcus aureus in communities
across the U.S. and to document the
bacteria's deadly impact.
MRSA is a superbug that does not respond
to treatment with common antibiotics
such as penicillin. More than 94,000
Americans contracted life-threatening
MRSA infections in 2005, including blood
and bone infections, pneumonia and
inflammation of the heart's lining. Most
appear to be traceable back to
hospitals, nursing homes or medical
clinics, the new CDC report found.
"This is really a call to action for
health-care facilities to make sure
they're doing everything they can to
prevent MRSA," said R. Monina Klevens,
the lead author of the report and a
medical epidemiologist at the CDC.
This year, Illinois became the first
state in the nation to require hospitals
to report infection rates, test patients
in intensive-care units for the bacteria
and to take specific measures to prevent
Nancy Foster, vice president of patient
safety at the American Hospital
Association, called the study an
"eye-opener" and said hospitals across
the country will need to evaluate
whether current strategies for combating
MRSA are effective.
But a growing number of MRSA cases are
also arising at community gyms and
schools, and these, too, can be deadly.
On Tuesday, a high school senior in
Moneta, Va., died after being
hospitalized for a week with an
infection that spread to his kidney,
liver, lungs and heart.
"I've never heard of a bacterial
invasive disease with an attack rate
anywhere near this high in children and
the elderly," said Dr. Robert Daum, a
specialist in MRSA and a professor of
pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
It's not known how the Virginia student
contracted the infection, but officials
ordered all 21 schools in the district
closed for cleaning Wednesday. The
bacteria can live on common surfaces,
such as a table, for days or weeks and
can be transmitted when someone touches
The CDC study found 32 of every 100,000
people in the communities studied
contracted invasive MRSA infections.
Rates were twice as high for
African-Americans (66 per 100,000) and
four times higher for the elderly (128
per 100,000). For infants younger than
1, the rate for blacks was four times
that of whites.
African-Americans may be more vulnerable
because they have higher rates of
chronic illnesses such as diabetes,
which require more visits to health-care
providers, Klevens said. Infected
individuals may then unwittingly spread
the bacteria to other household members.
The new CDC report is the most reliable
overview of serious MRSA infections
prepared to date. The data came from
nine sites: Connecticut; Baltimore; the
metropolitan areas of San Francisco,
Denver, Atlanta and Portland, Ore.; and
three counties in Minnesota, Tennessee
and New York.
Instead of using administrative data,
researchers checked medical records to
confirm cases of invasive MRSA
infections and double-checked laboratory
results. An earlier CDC study that
relied on administrative data had
estimated 5,000 people die each year of
dangerous MRSA infections.
Dr. William Jarvis, former acting
director of the hospital infections
program at the CDC, called upon the
agency to strengthen recommended
measures for preventing MRSA's spread in
light of the new report's findings.
"The CDC recommends routine screening
for HIV for everyone who goes to a
doctor, but it doesn't even recommend
routine screening for all hospital
patients for MRSA," he said.
Dr. John Jernigan, deputy chief of
prevention at the CDC, defended recent
agency guidelines that call for
health-care facilities to lower MRSA
infection rates. The guidelines are
voluntary and there is no timetable or
national reporting of the data. But
Jernigan said the recommendations will
work if health-care facilities are
serious about following them.