Swine flu could lead to rise in MRSA

A second wave of swine flu hitting Britain could lead to a rise in MRSA infections, medics have warned.

The MRSA Working Group, together with National Concern for Healthcare Infection and the Patients Association, is calling for the early discharge of patients from hospital to try and prevent a rise in the killer superbug.

They said when hospital bed occupancy rates were high, MRSA infection rates increased.

The group has written to all NHS hospital staff, reminding them to review their policy for the early discharge of MRSA patients.

The also urge hospitals not to let increasing pressure on staff and rising bed occupancy rates during winter to reverse the good work they have done to date to reduce MRSA rates.

Department of Health research has shown that when a hospital’s bed occupancy rate exceeds 90%, MRSA rates can be as much as 40% above average.

Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital and General Secretary of the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, said: ”The NHS has been working really hard to plan for swine flu and ensure there will be enough hospital beds available for patients who need to be admitted.

”What we don’t want to see is an increase in infections such as MRSA, which have been linked to high bed occupancy rates.

”A way to get around this is to support patients with infections to get out of hospital earlier with outpatient and home care and good antibiotic stewardship.”

The letter to hospitals outlines methods to help ensure sufficient critical care beds are available this winter through identifying MRSA patients and discharging them early. Studies have shown that providing IV treatment at home or switching eligible patients to oral antibiotics could free-up scarce hospital beds by enabling patients who are well enough to go home earlier.

”When faced with a difficult winter, it is vital that hospitals ensure sufficient beds are available,” said Dr Dryden.

”Treating patients with infections such as MRSA at home can help by reducing their length of stay in hospital, freeing up much-needed beds and easing pressure on staff and resources.

”It also helps to improve a patient’s quality of life.”

Katherine Murphy of The Patients Association, who co-signed the letter, said: ”There is a real risk that swine flu patients may block isolation beds resulting in patients with healthcare infections such as MRSA being treated on general wards.

”This coupled with a highly pressured and reduced workforce, could increase the risk of infections such as MRSA spreading to other vulnerable patients and throughout the hospital.”

Neil Manser, of the NCHI, added: ”Where possible and when it is clinically prudent, patients who have been infected or colonised with infections such as MRSA should be treated in the safety and comfort of their own homes.

”Only then can we be sure we are doing our best to effectively contain the spread of infectious diseases such as MRSA and prevent further infection of hospital patients during any winter bed crisis period.”

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