Deadly super bug prevented with antibacterial soap and ointment

Hospitals can help control the spread of the potentially deadly super bug known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA by providing intensive care unit patients with antibacterial soap and ointment, according to a U.S. government-funded study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that can't be treated with common antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infections typically occur as skin infections but severe and threatening MRSA infections occur most frequently among patients in healthcare settings. MRSA often causes common infections, including pneumonia and surgical wound infections.

The study, the largest of its kind on MRSA, involved 74 adult ICUs and more than 74,000 patients from 43 hospitals across the country. Researchers tested the effectiveness of three prevention practices: providing patients with routine care, providing germ-killing soap and ointment only to patients with MRSA, and providing germ-killing soap and ointment to all ICU patients. Researchers found the use of the germ-killing products on all ICU patients reduced bloodstream infections by as much as 44 percent and significantly reduced the presence of MRSA.

"This study helps answer a long-standing debate in the medical field about whether we should tailor our efforts to prevent infection to specific pathogens, such as MRSA, or whether we should identify a high-risk patient group and give them all special treatment to prevent infection," said lead author Susan Huang, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine in a statement issued by the CDC.

"The universal decolonization strategy was the most effective and the easiest to implement. It eliminates the need for screening ICU patients for MRSA," she added.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and conducted by the University of California, Irvine, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Hospital Corporation of America and the CDC.

Based on the findings, CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., said the CDC will next develop infection prevention recommendations. "We need to turn science into practical action for clinicians and hospitals," he said.

To learn more:
- see the study abstract
- read the CDC statement
- check out the CDC's background info on MRSA