Superbug infections rising
A jump in infections by a drug-resistant superbug within Fraser Health is increasingly beyond the control of hospitals and health officials because the bacteria responsible is circulating among healthy people in the community.
Fraser Health recorded 720 infections of MRSA among patients at its hospitals in the first nine months of the 2007-08 year, a nearly 13 per cent jump from 638 in the full 2005 fiscal year.
The largest number of infections in the current year – 165 – were found at Surrey Memorial Hospital, followed by Royal Columbian (149), Burnaby General (121) and Abbotsford (81).
But it’s not clear how many cases were transmitted within the hospitals or contracted outside them.
“You’ve got fairly large numbers of people wandering around who carry the organism, don’t know it, nobody else knows it and they act like a reservoir,” said Dr. Fred Roberts, Fraser Health’s medical director of infection control.
“That’s where the difficulty comes in,” he said. “These people can be anywhere. They can be next to you at the coffee counter.”
Before a few years ago, most MRSA was only found in hospitals and could be contained there, he said.
But it is now increasingly common in the wider community, meaning hospitals have trouble keeping the bug from coming in the front door with new patients.
As a result, health officials believe the sometimes-fatal infection is here to stay.
Some Ontario hospitals have launched a trial to screen every incoming patient so carriers can be isolated.
But to do the same thing here on a large scale would be expensive.
“A lot of it comes down to how you’re going to prioritize your resources and your priorities in health care,” Roberts said.
Roberts notes the MRSA infection numbers within Fraser Health aren’t “skyrocketing” as they have in some other jurisdictions.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infections are on the rise across B.C., according to Provincial Infection Control Network of B.C. manager Bruce Gamage.
“FHA is definitely not unique,” he said.
And in most parts of B.C. people are increasingly picking up MRSA in the community, while hospital-acquired infections continue to wane.
Hand washing is still considered a key defence, an area where past audits have found Fraser Health doctors and nurses lacking.
And Gamage said isolation of patients believed to be MRSA carriers is important and will be specified in new guidelines coming on infection control.
Other groups at risk include residents of care facilities or anywhere else people live in close quarters.
Athletes may also have a greater chance of exposure to MRSA.
“There have been a number of reports of people on sports teams that are in close contact, skin-to-skin contact, passing these bacteria back and forth,” Gamage said.
He said the risk can be reduced by ensuring players shower and don’t share sports equipment – or if they do to ensure equipment is cleaned between uses.
What is MRSA?
- Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.
- Harder to treat because fewer drugs are effective against it
- It can show up as skin lesions, abscesses, pneumonia and other forms and usually produces lots of pus.
- About 10 to 30 per cent of people colonized by the bacteria actually become infected.
- Linked to more than 2,000 Canadian deaths per year
-Most victims have other diseases or conditions that made them susceptible to infection.
MRSA infections by hospital:
2007-08 – 18
2005-06 – 5
- Surrey Memorial
2007-08 – 165
2005-06 – 176