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Superbug offensive is saving patients

Chief executive praises his staff’s fight against superbug

Mater Dei Hospital CEO Joseph Caruana. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Mater Dei Hospital CEO Joseph Caruana. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

The MRSA superbug.The MRSA superbug.

Twenty-four lives have been saved since Mater Dei Hospital introduced an intensive campaign to annihilate the superbug MRSA in 2010.

The reduction in MRSA blood infections has also seen the unnecessary suffering of patients cut down, and saved the hospital in excess of €100,000 a year, according to figures seen by The Sunday Times.

“These positive results are an example of team effort par excellence – no one person, or one department or profession can reduce MRSA alone; it was the concerted effort of every healthcare profession in contact with our patients,” hospital CEO Joseph Caruana said when contacted.

The notorious antibiotic-resistant superbug – Staphylococcus aureus – was threatening to undermine the hospital’s reputation. So in January 2010, Mater Dei rolled out a campaign to reduce the rate of infections.

MRSA is a bacterium that if not kept under check, will raise its head again immediately. We need to be vigilant 24/7

“MRSA and similar organisms are the threat to any hospital in the world, not only to Mater Dei, so these results are heartening because we have saved lives, reduced hardship and cut down on the length of patients’ stays,” Mr Caruana said.

MRSA blood infections are among the most serious infections that can be acquired in any hospital. Studies undertaken as part of the EU Burden Project have established that one in every three patients who contract an MRSA blood infection in Mater Dei will die.

In addition, this infection requires at least 14 days in-hospital treatment with expensive intravenous antibiotic combinations – treating each infection costs the hospital in excess of €4,000. Mr Caruana said one recent complicated case cost more than €25,000 to cure.

The campaign focused on stringent hand hygiene during patient care; better antibiotic use; and improved management of intravenous lines.

The results were immediately noticeable. In 2008 and 2009 the hospital had an average of more than four cases of MRSA blood infections a month, but at the start of the 2010 campaign fewer than two cases a month were recorded. And within the space of three years the number of cases has been halved.

Mr Caruana said recent improvements were particularly notable. Between July 2011 and March 2012, an average of 11 to 13 cases of MRSA blood infections used to be reported every three months. Over the past nine months this was constantly reduced and dropped to just three cases between October and December 2012.

MRSA is a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin and in noses of healthy people. Although it is usually harmless, it may occasionally get into the body through breaks in the skin and cause infection.

The problem is that the so-called hospital bug has reared its head in the community; an outcome linked to the abuse and misuse of antibiotic creams, providing a challenge to Mater Dei. Mr Caruana said between 15 and 20 per cent of individuals admitted to hospital were already unknowingly carrying the MRSA bacterium before they even set foot in Mater Dei; one of the highest rates recorded in the world.

In a bid to drive down this worrying statistic, Mater Dei has this year embarked on another ambitious programme to eliminate the microbe from a patient on admission before it has the chance to cause a serious infection.

For the time being, this has been introduced in the higher-risk wards, but by April all patients will be screened on admission. A swab will be taken from their nostrils and if they are carrying the microbe, patients will be immediately treated and managed separately to avoid cross-contamination during their stay in hospital.

“MRSA is a bacterium that if not kept under check continuously, will raise its head again immediately. We need to be vigilant and stick to our good hand hygiene and infection prevention practices 24/7.”

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