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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- In an effort to limit the spread of an antibiotic-resistant bacterium, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center is swabbing patients' noses.
"Our main goal is to identify carriers early on and quickly so we can isolate and prevent the spread to other patients," said Susan O'Connor-Wright, an infection control nurse at the VA Medical Center here.
The swabs are a means to determine if someone has methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
Patients with weak immune systems or who are recovering from invasive medical procedures are susceptible to infections. The dangerous infections spread easily and are hard to treat.
The Veterans Health Administration has ordered its 155 hospitals to begin screening every patient for the bacteria in September. The VA hospital here already was doing that in its medical intensive care units, O'Connor-Wright said.
Patients who are infected with or are carriers of the bacterium are put in private rooms, if available, and a sign is posted on their door to alert medical staff. Notices also are placed in their medical charts, she said.
The VA hospital also has hired a prevention coordinator for MRSA. "It's going to take many months, if not several years, to really show an overall decrease," O'Connor-Wright said.
Also in Utah, six Hospital Corporation of America-owned hospitals are launching a program to reduce hospital-acquired MRSA infections, said Scott Williams, chief medical officer for the mountain division. "It starts with doing surveillance, which is measuring the rate of MRSA infections within our hospitals in the same way across all of the hospitals," he said.
The hospital is focused on high-risk patients. "We're never going to be able to eliminate MRSA," he said. "Our goal is to eliminate the passage of MRSA from one patient to another."
A survey by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) in October and November 2006 shows that 46 out of every 1,000 patients in the study were either infected with or carry MRSA -- rates eight and 11 times greater than previous estimates.
There were 4,904 cases of MRSA in Utah in 2006, making it the second most common reportable communicable disease, according to state records. The data include both carriers and infected patients, and much of it is likely duplicative, said Susan Mottice, a health department epidemiologist. "The numbers are difficult to interpret. We don't know what they mean," she said.
The data are so ambiguous that Utah will no longer require hospitals to report MRSA infections or cases involving carriers. Utah is waiting to see what other states develop as a better way to gather and analyze the data.
A six-year survey of Intermountain Healthcare hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley found "no compelling trend," said David Pombo, director of the microbiology lab at LDS Hospital. It showed the number of hospital-acquired MRSA infections varied, he said.
A recent multi-center study showed surveillance culturing did not significantly reduce the transmission of MRSA in other hospitals, he said. That study and their own data led LDS Hospital to conclude the widespread swabbing was not "clinically useful," Pombo said.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)