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It seems like you can’t turn on a TV or radio without hearing about the threat of Ebola. Every day there seems to be a new report of a person undergoing monitoring for Ebola symptoms. With only four cases in the US, the threat of a massive Ebola outbreak in America seems improbable. However, when it was discovered that a nurse in Dallas may have contracted the disease due to a hospital’s failure to follow protocol, the disease helped to bring another threat to public safety into the forefront of public discussion – hospital sanitation.[1]

While it’s hard to imagine anything positive could come out of the current Ebola threat, a silver lining of the recent tragedy is that hospital sanitation has been launched into the limelight. While the threat of an Ebola epidemic may be on everyone’s mind, there is already an epidemic of a deadly, though preventable disease that is commonly transmitted in hospitals. In 2007, this disease killed more people than AIDS.[2] The disease is called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, but is more commonly known as MRSA. MRSA is a type of staph infection, but, unlike a normal staph infection, MRSA is resistant to antibiotics.

Hospitals can take simple steps to prevent the transmission of MRSA. A Center for Disease Control (CDC) study shows that using “germ-killing” soaps on ICU patients can reduce the incidence of transmission by over 60% in intensive care units.[3] Unfortunately, MRSA and other “Hospital Acquired Infections” (HAIs) continue to afflict hundreds of thousands of patients each year. This number does not even include people who contract infections in nursing homes and other facilities associated with healthcare. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1 in every 25 hospital patients acquire an infection while undergoing treatment,[4] costing hospitals – and, by consequence, their patients – about $30 billion in medical costs each year.[5]

In the past the legal system has had difficulty litigating HAI cases because it was often difficult to prove when patients acquired specific infections at hospital. Fortunately, recent scientific advances have resulted in new methods for identifying the sources of infections, and may be able to identify infections that originate in hospitals and other health-care settings. This exciting breakthrough is based on advances in genetics that enable scientists to track an infection’s “chain of transmission.” This development may reduce the burdens on those afflicted with HAIs by allowing them to seek compensation through our legal system, and can even help prevent HAIs from spreading.[6]

While new breakthroughs are preventing the transmission of these diseases, and can help victims of MRSA and other HAIs receive the compensation they deserve, MRSA has become so prevalent that it is no longer restricted to healthcare settings. The CDC warns that MRSA may be acquired in the community. The Center for Disease Control has outlined some simple steps to prevent the transmission of MRSA, and to identify its symptoms.[7] These steps may be found on the CDC’s website located here: http://www.cdc.gov/MRSA/community/index.html.

[1] David Kroll, Dallas Nurse Who Cared For Duncan Contracts Ebola: ‘Inadvertent Breach Of Protocol.’ Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2014/10/12/dallas-nurse-who-cared-for-duncan-contracts-ebola-inadvertent-breach-of-protocol/.

[2] Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center: More US Deaths from MRSA than AIDS, http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20071016/more-us-deaths-from-mrsa-than-aids.

[3] MRSA Study Slashes Deadly Infections in Sickest Hospital Patients, CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0529-mrsa-study.html.

[4] National Action Plan to Prevent Health Care-Associated Infections: Road Map to Elimination, Home of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, http://www.health.gov/hai/prevent_hai.asp.

[5] The Direct Medical Costs of Healthcare-Associated Infections in US Hospitals and the Benefits of Prevention, CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/hai/pdfs/hai/scott_costpaper.pdf.

[6] Jacob Sherkow, Forensic Genomics and “Nosocomial” Tort Litigation, Stanford Law School, http://blogs.law.stanford.edu/lawandbiosciences/2012/08/22/forensic-genomics-and-nosocomial-tort-litigation/.

[7] General Information About MRSA in the Community, CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/MRSA/community/index.html.


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