After years of steady decline, progress has stalled in reducing the rate of dangerous Staphylococcus aureus (staph)infections in U.S. health care settings, according to a new report from the CDC. And rates of some staph infections acquired in the community are rising, possibly as a result of the opioid crisis, the report found.
Staph is a bacterium found on people’s skin, which can lead to sepsis or death if it gets into the bloodstream. Factors that increase this risk include staying in a health care facility (such as a hospital or nursing home), having surgery, getting a medical device implanted, injecting drugs, or coming into close contact with a person with staph.
The CDC data, from 2017, reflect rates for two types of bloodstream staph infections: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus, or MSSA. Both types can be deadly. Combined, the infections occurred in more than 119,000 people in the United States in 2017, causing almost 20,000 deaths.
MRSA infection rates in U.S. hospitals declined substantially and steadily from 2005 through 2012, falling by about 17 percent nationally each year, largely as the result of aggressive hospital infection-prevention programs. But the rate leveled out from 2013 through 2017, a lack of further progress that should prompt “concern,” the CDC report said.
At the same time, the rate of MSSA infections that started outside of a health care setting (known as community-acquired infections) increased almost 4 percent each year from 2012 to 2017. The rise in staph infections in the community may be linked to the opioid crisis, the CDC says, since some opioid users inject the drugs, which include heroin. The agency reported last year that 9 percent of serious staph infections in 2016 occurred in people who inject drugs, up from 4 percent in 2011.
Bottom line: The findings point to a need for further efforts to prevent staph infections both in health care settings and in communities. For your part, you can reduce your risk of getting or spreading a staph infection by washing your hands frequently, covering wounds, and not sharing items that contact the skin, like towels (including gym towels), bar soap, razors, and needles. And if you’re in the hospital and someone is about to lay hands on you, ask, if you’re able, whether they have washed their hands or used an alcohol-based gel. Alcohol hand gel is effective against both MRSA and MSSA.
Also see Poor Handwashing in Hospitals?