Hospital doctors take the simple step of hand washing to prevent the spread of staph infections like MRSA
Hospital doctors take the simple step of hand washing to prevent the spread of staph infections like MRSA

Health care facilities, especially hospitals, are frequent breeding grounds for bacteria that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics. In the United States, more than one million resistant infections are linked to at least a hundred thousand hospital deaths every year.  One of the most prevalent of these superbugs is MRSA.  Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) said countries should take steps to prevent the spread of such resistant bacteria.  But while MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is at epidemic proportions worldwide, it is declining in hospitals in the United States.

Hand washing is something many of us do frequently during the course of a day.  But in a health care facility, it can make the difference between life and death for patient and doctor.

"There are tremendous efforts being done in hospitals around the country trying to minimize the impact of these infections, and I think these results are encouraging and show that, at least suggest that these efforts are having an impact," said Dr. Alexander Kallen of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Kallen reviewed data from hospitals in nine metropolitan areas of the United States.  

The hospitals were utilized by millions of people who could have brought MRSA onto the premises or been exposed to it either as health care workers or patients.  

Previous data reported to the CDC showed that MRSA was growing at a dramatically higher rate from 1974 to 2004. From 2005 through 2008, there was a significant decline.

"Over this four year time period, there was about a 28 percent decrease in these serious MRSA infections that start in the hospital," added Dr. Kallen.  "There was also about a 17 percent decrease in the infections that start in people outside the hospital, but are in people that have contact with the health care system."

When left unchecked, MRSA can be life threatening as it spreads through the blood stream and bone.

"The difference between this staph bacteria and other staff bacteria is that it tends to be resistant to some of the common antibiotics that we use to treat these infections," Dr. Kallen noted.

Researchers say educational campaigns reminding hospital workers, patients and the public about the dangers of MRSA may be responsible for the drop in infection rate.  

Recently, the World Health Organization called on countries to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the rational use of antibiotics and stopping the sale of antibiotics without prescriptions.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.