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MRSA Rates Tied to Hospital Understaffing

In busy units, even basic hand-washing can get lost in rush to treat patients, study says

TUESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Overcrowding and understaffing can cause a breakdown in the control of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in hospitals, Australian researchers report.

The team at the School of Population Health, University of Queensland, noted that hospitals in many high-income countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have reduced the number of available beds but have increased the number of people being treated as outpatients.

"The drive toward greater efficiency by reducing the number of hospital beds and increasing patient throughput has led to highly stressed health-care systems with unwelcome side effects," the researchers wrote.

In addition, many countries are seeing fewer people choosing nursing as a career, resulting in a smaller health-care workforce.

"Understaffing is both an ongoing and long-term future problem with severe consequences for hospital patients," wrote the researchers, who noted there's a significant association between health-care worker-to-patient ratios and infection rates.

For example, overworked doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are less likely to wash their hands, which is an essential component of MRSA control.

"Overcrowding and understaffing have had a negative effect on patient safety and quality of care, evidenced by the flourishing of health-care-acquired MRSA infections in many countries, despite efforts to control and prevent these infections occurring... There is an urgent need for detailed study of the relative effects of acute short-term and chronic long-term resource constraints on the dynamics of MRSA infection and a concurrent requirement for developing resource allocation strategies that minimize MRSA transmission without compromising the quality and level of patient care," the researchers concluded.

The review was published in the July issue of the The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about MRSA.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet Infectious Diseases, news release, June 24, 2008

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