UIHC screening for MRSA before invasive surgeries


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The hospital staff is checking for staph.

Over a two-year period, officials from the University of Iowa and Kent State University have unfolded a study that assesses veterans of Iowa who may have odds of carrying a drug-resistant staph.

To combat the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the UI Hospitals and Clinics performs mandatory screenings for patients prior to invasive surgeries.

UI internamedicine Professor Loreen Herwaldt said the hospital implemented procedures to screen all inpatients through screenings so anyone who is colonized with MRSA can be decolonized before developing an infection or passing it on to another individual. 

“If a patient is carrying MRSA, we have them get the usual antibiotic that we give patients to decrease their risk of infection in their surgical sight,” Herwaldt said.  “We put them on an antibiotic for five days and tell them to bathe with a medicated soap.” 

A team of UI and Kent State officials surveyed 1,036 VA patients who were located in rural Iowa and were admitted to the VA hospital in 2010 and 2011.  Overall, 6.8 percent of the patients were carrying MRSA or a type of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in their nostrils.  

Herwaldt said MRSA is not worse at the UIHC than it has been in the past.  She said officials are trying to decrease the risk of infection in open skin when undergoing operations. 

Margaret Carrel, a UI assistant professor of geographical and sustainability sciences, said people can be colonized in places in which individuals live in proximity to one another and share surfaces that may not be sanitized, such as in dorms, prisons, or nursing homes. 

Carrel said there are several types of MRSA, some being associated with community sources including health care and some associated with livestock. 

Carrel found through her studies that of the people admitted to the VA hospital, those living in rural areas or near a large number of pigs were three times as likely to carry MRSA.

As a state with a large number of livestock operations, locations near swine confined animal-feeding operations can also be a source of MRSA. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Iowa alone has 19 million pigs housed in 7,000 skuch operations.

But the bacteria don’t pertain only to Iowans.

“I wouldn't say that Iowans are more susceptible to MRSA. Lots of young and healthy people can be colonized by MRSA, carrying it around temporarily or long-term, without ever becoming sick,” Carrel said.  “Other studies have shown that individuals who work on hog farms, who visit hog farms, or who have family who work on hog farms, can be colonized with MRSA.”

Larry Sailer, a hog farmer from Franklin County, said the fear of MRSA can sometimes be blown out of proportion and may form misleading judgments on confinement buildings and hog farmers.

“Some of the information can be a little misleading for people,” he said.  “In my opinion, kids who live on farms are sometimes healthier because they are exposed to more.”

Sailer said he has met people who do not live near hog farms and have obtained MRSA after being at the hospital.  He said people should not think of only obtaining MRSA near hog buildings but in other public areas are just as likely as obtaining it in a hog building. 

“People should be aware of this infection, but should not be afraid of it,” Sailer said.  “Throughout my experience as a farmer, this has instilled a type of fear in people, and it totally makes confinement buildings look bad, but what people need to know is that this is a very rare infection.”

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