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Study Reports Disinfecting ICU Patients Could Reduce Infections

Update Date: May 30, 2013 10:31 AM EDT

One of the biggest medical problems that occur in hospitals is the risk of infection. In order to fight infections and attempt to prevent them, hospitals and doctors currently screen patients they believe are at the highest risk for them. A new study, however, suggests that this method could be more effective. Researchers reported that in order to reduce the risk of 'superbug' infections, which are bacterial infections that are resistant to drugs, hospitals should decontaminate all patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

"Patients in the ICU are already very sick, and the last thing they need to deal with is a preventable infection," Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, the head of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said reported by NPR. This agency also helped fund the study. "This research has the potential to influence clinical practice significantly and create a safer environment where patients can heal without harm."

This latest study is the largest one to research methods into controlling infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA). In this new study, the researchers used data from over 74,000 patients from 74 ICUs throughout the world. The hospitals were randomly assigned to one of three methods. The first group required hospitals to test ICU patients for MRSA and isolate those that are positive. The second strategy asked hospitals to test ICU patients for MRSA and then disinfect them. The last one told hospitals to disinfect all patients regardless of whether or not they were infected. They found that by cleaning every single ICU patient with a special soap and ointment lowered the rate of infections by 44 percent. The researchers reported that for the group of patients that went through the disinfectant process, there were 3.6 infections per 1,000 days at the hospital. The rate was 6.1 per 1,000 days for the old method.  

"This study helps answer a long-standing debate in the medical field about whether we should tailor our efforts to prevent infection to specific pathogens, such as MRSA, or whether we should identify a high-risk patient group and give them all special treatment to prevent infection," the lead investigator of the study, Dr. Susan Huang said. Huang is from the University of California, Irvine. "The universal decolonization strategy was the most effective and the easiest to implement. It eliminated the need for screening ICU patients for MRSA."

The researchers stated that even though this new strategy proved to be the most effective in reducing infections, they stressed to doctors to look out for any newly developed resistance to the soaps and ointments.

The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine

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