Hospital infections: the US is lagging way behind Europe

If you are an American admitted to a hospital in Amsterdam, Toronto, or Copenhagen these days, you’ll be considered a biohazard.

Hospital infections kill an estimated 90,000 patients each year in the US. About 13,000 of those deaths are due to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA]. Methicillin is the last line of defense the hospitals have today against staph infection.

So why are European hospitals reducing MRSA incidence, while the incidence of MRSA cases continues to grow in the US?

If you are an American admitted to a hospital in Amsterdam, Toronto, or Copenhagen these days, you’ll be considered a biohazard. Doctors and nurses will likely put you into quarantine while they determine whether you’re carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a deadly organism that is increasingly common stateside, especially in our hospitals. And if you test positive for methicillin-resistant staph, or MRSA, these European and Canadian hospital workers will don protective gloves, masks, and gowns each time they approach you, and then strip off the gear and scrub down vigorously when they leave your room. The process is known as “search and destroy”—a combat mission that hospitals abroad are undertaking to prevent the spread of germs that resist antibiotics. Our own health authorities, meanwhile, have been strangely reluctant to join the assault.