"MRSA is resilient and can survive on surfaces for long periods of time," says Chetan Jinadatha. "Hands can be easily contaminated. If health care workers are not implementing good hygiene practices, then MRSA can be spread from worker to patient." (Credit: Ted Eytan/Flickr)

bacteria

Where do hospital ‘superbugs’ get their start?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections are a leading cause of extended hospitalizations and escalating health care costs. But where do these infections originate?

Now researchers say they have taken a step closer to the great mystery surrounding these so-called “superbugs.”

Caused by a type of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections, most MRSA cases occur in people who have been in hospitals or other health care settings, like nursing homes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says MRSA is one of the four most dangerous bacteria.

A typical 100-bed hospital sees, on average, 10-20 hospital-acquired infections per year. In additional to the human toll, hospitals now have a financial reason to reduce hospital-acquired infections. Beginning in 2017, the federal government will dramatically reduce Medicare payments to hospitals that exceed incidences of certain conditions, such as hospital-acquired infections.

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“In order to stop the spread of MRSA in our hospitals, we need to pinpoint where the infection originated in patients who were hospitalized,” says Chetan Jinadatha, assistant professor of medicine at Texas A&M University.

A prevalent region where MRSA is found is in our nostrils or the nares. The new study, published in American Journal of Infection Control, focuses on identifying if these MRSA colonizations are contributing to the rising amount of MRSA cases in health care settings. Interestingly, they found this isn’t the case.

“Our study found that most MRSA infections are actually not due to the colonies living in our nares,” Jinadatha says. “Among 50 of our patients, 36 did not acquire the bacteria from this region.” In other words, 74 percent of acquired MRSA are from a non-nasal source.

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MRSA also lives on other body regions like the groin and it is possible that colonies from different areas will move to the bloodstream and result in an infection. However, the impact of different MRSA colonizations is still largely unknown.

MRSA patients may have been exposed to the bacteria during a hospital stay, Jinadatha says. “MRSA is resilient and can survive on surfaces for long periods of time. Hands can be easily contaminated. If health care workers are not implementing good hygiene practices, then MRSA can be spread from worker to patient.”

The new study is only the beginning, Jinadatha says. “We want to expand on our initial findings and dig deeper into the other sources for MRSA colonization. We know the environment plays a huge role and future findings will stress how hospitals can remove these strains from the infection cycle.”

Source: Texas A&M University

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