An outbreak of MRSA at a Los Angeles-area hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit has raised questions about when health officials were notified of the outbreak, and why the public was not informed sooner.
*Updated April 24, 2017 at 2:05 EST
The University of California Irvine Medical Center recently announced that 10 infants were infected with the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria since last summer. This is the first time the ongoing outbreak is made known to the public.
Antibiotic-resistant staph infections in hospitals and healthcare settings are dangerous, as these superbug infections can defy treatment and lead to life threatening illness. MRSA can be spread by direct contact, typically by healthcare workers, or patients with open wounds—such as from a recent surgical incision—are often most at risk of these skin infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 (33%) people are carriers of staph bacteria in their nose, usually without any illness, while about 2 in 100 people carry MRSA. However, the CDC notes that a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found that life-threatening hospital-associated MRSA infections declined by 54% in the United States from 2005 to 2011, resulting in 30,800 fewer severe infections and about 9,000 fewer deaths.
The recent news from UC Irvine involves a MRSA outbreak that has affected 10 infants receiving care in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The Los Angeles Times first reported the news of the outbreak on April 13. "Orange County Healthcare Agency has been involved since August," explained UC Irvine spokesperson, John Murray, in a recent interview with Contagion®. "In December, the county laboratory confirmed 5 clonal strains between August and November 2016." Murray says that a total of 10 infants at the hospital tested positive for MRSA between August 2016 and March 2017— 9 of them had infections and 1 was colonized. All infected infants were successfully treated with antibiotics and no infant deaths have been linked to the outbreak.
Officials from the Los Angeles-area hospital say they took measures to prevent any further spread of the superbug by isolating the infected infants, as babies can be particularly vulnerable to MRSA colonization and infection. Four members of the hospital staff at UC Irvine tested positive for colonization with the MRSA strain and all members of the UC Irvine staff have followed measures to disinfect their hands and noses with antiseptic soap and ointment to prevent any further spread of the bacteria. Since then, the four colonized staff members have tested negative for the superbug. To further prevent any new infant MRSA cases in the hospital, doctors are screening new babies for staph colonization or infection and the NICU facilities are receiving regular deep cleaning.
"Our goal is to ensure the safety of our patients and eradicate the presence of any drug-resistant bacteria in our neonatal intensive care unit. All hospitals must periodically manage the presence of drug-resistant bacteria,” said UC Irvine spokesperson John Murray in a recent statement. “Since it is not possible to completely eliminate risk, the objective is to develop and sustain an infection prevention program that minimizes the risk of transmission. That is what we did; our aggressive approach was validated by the Orange County Healthcare Agency and California Department of Public Health and presence of the bacteria was not deemed to be a threat to public health."