MRSA Cases Double in Academic Hospitals Over 5 Years

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A new study suggests that you might be more likely to pick up a deadly infection in one type of hospital than in others. Chicago researchers found that infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) doubled during five years in academic hospitals. These findings affect me as a patient with suppressed immunity who needs periodic hospital care.

The research team consisted of scientists from the University of Chicago Medicine -- a research center as well as a neighborhood care provider -- and the University HealthSystem Consortium. The study covered 2006, 2007, and 2008, according to Medical News Today.

The Mayo Clinic describes a MRSA infection as one caused by a strain of staph bacteria now resistant to the antibiotics most often utilized to treat common staph infections. Experts think the primary culprit is overuse of antibiotics to treat cold, flu, and other viral infections that don't improve with these drugs.

Even with bacterial infections, some bacteria survive and evolve. They learn how to resist an antibiotic and others that follow it. Around 1 percent of U.S. residents carries the type of staph bacteria linked to MRSA, which has been common since the 1990s. The infection can strike any portion of the body.

Treatment in a hospital tops most lists of risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that in this setting, the primary way the infection spreads is through human hands. The agency advises patients to ask medical caregivers to clean their hands before providing treatment.

Prior to the Chicago study, experts noted a declining number of MRSA cases in hospitals. However, the CDC study with that conclusion examined only invasive cases. The Chicago research included MRSA skin infections, which the CDC study excluded. The more recent study found that MRSA incidence in academic medical centers rose from 21 of every 1,000 patients in 2003 to 42 per 1,000 for 2008, or around 5 percent of the patients.

Researchers attribute the jump to a rise in community-associated infections. The study captured data from 90 percent of all non-profit U.S. academic medical centers, many of which provide health care to their communities.

I have Crohn's disease, which affects around 700,000 people in the United States, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Because I must take immunosuppressant drugs, I catch "bugs" easily. Like many Crohn's patients, I periodically visit hospitals, both through the emergency room and as an inpatient for surgery or prolonged medical treatment.

Medical providers have often encouraged me to opt to use academic medical centers to benefit the training of the medical students, interns, and residents involved in my care. I've always agreed. However, considering that the MRSA rate has doubled in these hospitals, I think I'm done volunteering in academic settings when I need treatment.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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