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February 2008

New, quick MRSA test available at Sharon Regional

Until recently, most laboratories tested for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, by performing a culture to see if the MRSA bacteria were present in a patient’s sample. However, growing the bacteria in culture may take up to two days to produce results. 

"We now have a new test that gives results in about 75 minutes, says Jamie L. Adam, M.D., PhD., chief pathologist, and Director of Laboratory Services at Sharon Regional. "The rapid diagnosis enables us to identify colonized patients or "carriers" right away and it also helps us to ensure that all hospital staff members who come in contact with those patients take extra precautions to avoid the spread of infection.”

“We take a nasal swab because MRSA germs can be present in the nose even in people who don’t have any evidence of skin infection. It’s essentially a sophisticated form of genetic testing that can now be done as a routine lab operation. The test is very specific for the MRSA gene. Other tests for MRSA aren’t as sensitive or as accurate."

Developed by the California-based company Cepheid, the Xpert MRSA test now available at Sharon Regional is a new form of DNA testing done in the microbiology laboratory.  It involves swabbing inside the patient’s nose and combining the sample with chemical agents in a small cartridge, where a chain reaction occurs to rapidly multiply copies of  "target" DNA. The DNA can then be detected by a highly complex instrument if MRSA is present in the sample. 

Sharon Regional is the only hospital in Mercer County to offer this test routinely on admission to the Health System, or prior to undergoing certain high-risk surgeries. 

Bacterial infections that do not respond to treatment with common antibiotics have been in the news a lot lately.  MRSA is a type of Staph germ that is resistant to many frequently prescribed antibiotics. Because of this resistance, MRSA can be hard to treat and can lead to life-threatening blood or bone infections if not treated properly. Also, treatment of these resistant staph infections is becoming more complex and expensive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over $2.5 billion in excess healthcare costs are attributable to MRSA infections.

MRSA lives on the skin and can survive on objects and surfaces for more than 24 hours. It can be found in crowded places such as schools, gyms and jails, as well as in hospitals and nursing homes. MRSA is spread through direct physical contact or by touching objects such as towels, sheets, workout areas and sports equipment. Infection can often occur in otherwise healthy people who have never been in the hospital, generally showing up as skin infections that look like spider bites, boils or pimples that become painful with redness, swelling, and draining pus.

Many people who carry MRSA on their bodies do not have symptoms of infection and can become "carriers" of the disease, spreading it to other people without realizing it. Fortunately, new testing technologies are now available to identify carriers rapidly, which could dramatically reduce the transmission of MRSA infections.

     In the community, people can take various precautions to avoid contracting or spreading MRSA infections, such as:

    a. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
    b. Avoid touching your face.
    c. Don’t handle other people’s bandages or wounds without wearing latex gloves, or if you do, wash your hands right away.
    d. Carefully clean the surfaces in your home, such as countertops and bathroom fixtures, because the organisms can survive on surfaces.
    e. Don’t share personal items such as razors, towels or eating utensils.
     f. Carry a liquid hand-sanitizer or sanitary wipes with you when going out in public places and handling items such as grocery carts.

For more Information call our Health Information Center at :
724-983-5518 or 800-346-7997

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