Three hospitals in the Chicago area have announced plans to launch a screening program to detect potentially deadly infections with drug-resistant strains of staph bacteria. Evanston Northwestern Healthcare will launch a screening process for all admitted patients at its three hospitals in Evanston, Glenbrook, and Highland Park, Ill., to detect methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The initiative will use same-day molecular testing to detect MRSA infection or identify patients carrying the bacteria on their skins. Doctors will be able to immediately identify MRSA cases and treat them with newer, stronger antibiotics that are still effective against the bacteria before they expose other patients to possible infection.
MRSA is a common infection that occurs in community settings like hospitals and prisons, but it has also cropped up during the past three years in several U.S. cities among sexually active men who have sex with men. Many of the sexually acquired MRSA cases have been reported in HIV-positive men, and a study presented at the 2005 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections showed that most occurred in men with CD4-cell counts below 50, high HIV viral loads, or both. Researchers say this suggests advanced HIV disease may weaken immune system defenses against the bacteria.
A separate study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, has shown that the bacteria itself may use carotenoids'antioxidant-like molecules that give the bacteria a golden color'to inactivate chemicals released by the immune system that would target and attack it.
MRSA can cause large, painful sores and progress to death if left untreated. The bacteria can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or by coming into contact with a person's sweat, such as at a health club or sauna. A fact sheet by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following steps to prevent staph infections:
' washing hands regularly with soap and water,
' keeping cuts and abrasions covered until healed,
' using a moisturizer to prevent skin from cracking, and
' avoiding contact with other people's wounds or material that touched their wounds.