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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Joins Fight Against Deadly Bacteria

November 28, 2006

HOUSTON - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is a more serious form of a common bacteria that frequently inhabits the skin or nostrils of healthy people. Due to its resistance to antibiotics commonly used in treatment, MRSA is one of the most rapidly growing and virulent health care associated infections, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is responsible for over 100,000 U.S. hospitalizations each year.

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) has teamed up with 18 other VA medical facilities for the VA MRSA Prevention Initiative, “Getting to Zero.” The goal of this important health care effort is to improve the safety and quality of life for our nation’s veterans.

Anyone can get a MRSA infection, but the risk is greatest among people treated in hospitals and health care facilities, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers, with weakened immune systems. These health care-associated staph infections include surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.

MRSA is primarily spread by direct physical contact with a person or object carrying the bacteria, such as shared equipment. In the hospital setting, the most common vector of transmission is health care workers’ hands.

MRSA is diagnosed by obtaining a culture from the infection site and sending it to the laboratory. If Staphylococcus Aureus is isolated, the organism is then tested to determine which antibiotics will be effective for treating the infection.

When MRSA is introduced into a hospital, it tremendously increases the total burden of infection for the patient and increases the risk of death four-fold. These patients have hospital stays lasting more than two and a half times longer than the average patient.

Through pilot studies conducted at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System focusing on enhancing MRSA control, the major barriers to effective MRSA prevention were identified. The war on MRSA in Pittsburgh VA facilities has succeeded in reducing the hospital’s MRSA infection cases from 20 per year to as few as two per year.

As a result of the pilot studies, the VA developed the “MRSA Bundle” as a packaged prevention strategy. These measures include (1) Active Surveillance (swabbing performed on admission, discharge, and transfer within the hospital); (2) Hand Hygiene (before and after patient contact); (3) Contact Precautions (gloves, gowns, masks, etc.); and (4) Cultural Transformation (staff and leadership engagement).

“The only VA in Texas participating at this time, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center is eager to be a part of this important, new initiative to improve health care and safety for our veterans,” said Maureen Koza, MEDVAMC Infection Control Coordinator.