- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

NORFOLK (AP) | Virginia officials report 1,380 invasive cases of MRSA with at least 35 people dead of the staph infection since late 2007 - the first year the state began tracking MRSA.

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, ordered medical labs across the state to report the more serious cases of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, to the state Health Department last year after a 17-year-old Bedford County boy died.

Only about 30 percent of the cases reported from Dec. 1, 2007, through the end of November listed a known outcome, so the number of deaths could be higher.

Dr. Christopher Novak, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, said the data will be more helpful in tracking trends as more time passes.

“A year is not very much time,” he said. “In general, the trend is up, but it’s a problem that’s been going on for decades.”

Dr. Novak also said Virginia’s numbers are similar to what’s going on nationally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 94,000 cases of invasive MRSA infections were in the United States in 2005, of which more than 18,000 resulted in death.

Virginia’s data does not distinguish between whether MRSA was acquired in a hospital or in the community. The state also doesn’t require reporting of the less serious forms of MRSA that involve skin and tissue infections.

MRSA has been fairly common for decades in hospitals and health care settings, but healthy people in community settings began contracting the resistant bacterial strains in the late 1990s. The bacteria spread through skin-to-skin contact, wound and nasal discharge.

Hospitals have begun to do more to combat the infections, such as testing people who are admitted to intensive-care units and improving hand-washing procedures.

“We are looking for things we do or have not been doing in hospitals that contribute to people getting ill,” said Gene Burke, vice president and executive medical director for clinical effectiveness for Sentara Healthcare. “Everyone is paying attention to the issue. It’s on the national agenda.”

Dr. Novak thinks Virginia’s data collection will be more useful as more is collected. He warns, though, that more must be done to combat the bacteria.

“Just because you’re reporting it doesn’t mean it’s under control,” he said.

Ashton Bonds, 17, a senior at Staunton River High School in Bedford in southwest Virginia, died Oct. 15, 2007, at Bedford Memorial Hospital. He had been hospitalized for more than a week after complaining of side pains.

The 11,000-student school district had at least five other cases of the infection that fall, including three at Staunton River.

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