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MRSA screening bill pushed in Congress

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rep. Speier Pushes Bill to Curb Deadly Hospital Acquired MRSA Infections

Consumers Union Endorses Legislation Requiring Hospitals to Screen
Patients for MRSA and Report Infection Rates to Public

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New legislation recently introduced in Congress would help to significantly reduce the incidence of an antibiotic-resistant, hospital acquired infection that kills nearly 19,000 Americans every year, according to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

HR 2937, introduced by Representative Jackie Speier (CA), would require hospitals to screen patients to identify those who are carriers of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria as part of a strategy aimed at preventing the spread of MRSA infections to other patients. The bill requires hospitals to disclose MRSA infection rates to the public and encourages hospitals to follow other measures to improve patient safety. A similar measure (S. 1305) has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Robert Menendez (NJ).

“MRSA infections are mostly preventable but thousands of Americans die every year from them and many more suffer needlessly because hospitals fail to protect patients from being exposed to these dangerous superbugs,” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project ( “This legislation will improve patient care and let the public know which hospitals have the best track record when it comes to preventing infections.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 19,000 Americans died in 2005 from MRSA infections acquired in hospitals and other health care settings. MRSA is resistant to many available antibiotics and is spreading quickly in healthcare facilities across the country. An estimated 95,000 people developed MRSA infections in 2005, 85 percent of which were acquired in the hospital or other health care setting, according to CDC researchers.

As MRSA infection rates have climbed, more and more attention has focused on preventing the spread of these superbugs. In addition to strict hand hygiene, successful strategies for controlling MRSA include screening patients using active surveillance cultures, isolating patients colonized with MRSA, using gowns, gloves, and masks when treating them (contact precautions), and routine decontamination of patient rooms and operating rooms

Under HR 2937, hospitals initially would be required to screen all patients admitted to intensive care units and other high risk units to determine whether they are colonized with MRSA bacteria. By 2014, hospitals would be required to screen all patients for MRSA. The bill encourages hospitals to follow other effective infection control strategies, such as strict hand hygiene and contact precautions to prevent the spread of MRSA to other patients.

Screening patients to identify MRSA carriers coupled with these other infection control best practices has been found to dramatically reduce the incidence of these antibiotic-resistant infections. The Veterans Health Administration adopted these strategies at all of its 150 hospitals after a pilot program in Pennsylvania resulted in a 70 percent reduction of MRSA infections in surgical units. Other hospitals have used these strategies to achieve even larger reductions in MRSA infections.

Unfortunately, most hospitals do not practice these effective infection prevention strategies. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) found that only 29 percent of infection control professionals it surveyed reported that their hospitals screened patients to identify those colonized with MRSA. Other research has consistently found that hand hygiene compliance rates in hospitals are typically below 50 percent.

“A national standard for prevention and disclosure of hospital acquired MRSA infections is needed to curb this epidemic,” said Bill Vaughan, Senior Health Policy Analyst for Consumers Union. “This legislation will ensure that patients in every US hospital are given the same protection against these sometimes deadly infections.”

Lisa McGiffert – 512-477-4431, ext 115
Michael McCauley – 415-431-6747, ext 126

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