By Paul Levy

First Posted at Not Running a Hospital on 5/29/2013

Paul Levy, Host of (Not) Running a Hospital
Paul Levy, Host of (Not) Running a Hospital

It isn’t often that you see a headline like this in the medical world.  But such are the conclusions reached by Michael B. Edmond, M.D., M.P.H., and Richard P. Wenzel, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The editorial commented on the results of an extensive study by Susan S. Huang et al published by NEJM, entitled, “Targeted versus Universal Decolonization to Prevent ICU Infection.”

This is a big deal. For a number of years, people have been arguing over the issue of whether screening patients for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, with subsequent isolation, would be better than a generalized (non-pathogen specific) infection control approach.  As explained by Edmond and Wenzel, that study concluded:

Active detection and isolation without decolonization was not effective in reducing rates of MRSA-positive clinical cultures, MRSA bloodstream infections, or bloodstream infections from any pathogen. In contrast, targeted and universal decolonization resulted in significant reductions in MRSA-positive clinical cultures and bloodstream infections from any pathogen but not MRSA bloodstream infections; however, the effect of universal decolonization was greater than the effect of targeted decolonization.

The study design was as follows:

We conducted a pragmatic, cluster-randomized trial. Hospitals were randomly assigned to one of three strategies, with all adult ICUs in a given hospital assigned to the same strategy. Group 1 implemented MRSA screening and isolation; group 2, targeted decolonization (i.e., screening, isolation, and decolonization of MRSA carriers); and group 3, universal decolonization (i.e., no screening, and decolonization of all patients). Proportional-hazards models were used to assess differences in infection reductions across the study groups, with clustering according to hospital.

The results:

Universal decolonization resulted in a significantly greater reduction in the rate of all bloodstream infections than either targeted decolonization or screening and isolation.

(Note: Universal decolonization was accomplished with intranasal mupirocin for 5 days and chlorhexidine bathing for the entire ICU stay.)

The editorial concludes (with my emphasis):

The implications of this study are highly important. The lack of effectiveness of active detection and isolation should prompt hospitals to discontinue the practice for control of endemic MRSA. A benefit will be a reduced proportion of patients requiring contact precautions, which is a patient-unfriendly practice that interferes with care. In addition, the folly of pursuing legislative mandates when evidence is lacking has been shown, and laws mandating MRSA screening should be repealed.

Lastly, this study has implications beyond MRSA. New resistance mechanisms continue to emerge in nosocomial pathogens. The recent dissemination of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae has stimulated calls to implement active detection and isolation for these organisms. We hope that the results of this study will redirect that discussion and reinforce the utility of horizontal interventions to control not only the pathogens of today but those of tomorrow as well.

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.


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