In hospitals, the antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria known as MRSA can cause serious and costly infections.
Unfortunately, devices frequently used in an ICU can provide MRSA with a direct path into a patients bloodstream.
"Doctors often use catheters inserted into major blood vessels both for treatment and monitoring. These catheters, which are sometimes called central lines, are vital for patient care, but they also can represent a potential source for infection of the bloodstream with MRSA or other microorganisms," says Dr. Deron Burton with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"One of the reasons that patients with central venous catheters are at such high risk for infection is because you're placing device through the patients skin into a sterile body space," adds Dr. John Jernigan, also with the CDC.
Over the past decade efforts have intensified to prevent such infections in a study featured this week in JAMA, Dr. Deron Burton and his colleagues at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzed data collected from almost 600 hospitals between 1997 and 2007 in an effort to see whether the risk of these infections in this highly vulnerable group of patients has gone up or down in recent years.
From 1997 through 2001, in four of seven major ICU types that we studied, the risk was increasing. Since 2001 the risk of MRSA blood stream infections associated with the use of a central line in icu's has dramatically declined by roughly 50-70 percent in most types of ICUs.
While the study did not delve into reasons behind the numbers, researchers found clues that prevention methods may be having an impact. Excellent news for the patients who just may need it most.
"We know that there have been many ongoing efforts to improve the safety of central line use in hospitals around the country, particularly in intensive care units. We were thrilled to confirm that these efforts have been paying off," says Dr. Burton.
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