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Hospital in ‘war with bad bug’

By Staff
MRSA screenings bring about fewer infections
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
GREENVILLE — When Pitt County Memorial Hospital began screening all hospital admissions and elective surgery candidates for staphylococcus bacteria in February, it became the first hospital in the state and only the sixth hospital in the country to do so.
Since the screening program was launched, the hospital has screened more than 27,000 patients for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. About 8 percent of admissions — about one in 12 — have tested positive, almost twice the expected 3 percent to 5 percent of admissions.
Dr. Keith Ramsey, medical director of the hospital’s infection control program, said that through reading medical literature and noticing an upward trend in MRSA infections nationwide, hospital staff decided to expand the hospital’s existing screening program.
The screening process, which Ramsey demonstrated, involves a simple swab of the inside of a patient’s nostrils. MRSA tests are performed in the hospital’s microbiology lab, and results are available the same day, he said.
Dr. Jeff Engel, a state epidemiologist, wants to spread the hospital’s successes with screening across the state. Engel held Ramsey’s post at the hospital before moving to Raleigh six years ago. The hospital-wide screenings were also the focus of a 16-hospital collaborative meeting at the hospital Wednesday to discuss MRSA prevention.
Staph bacteria, even MRSA, can live harmlessly, or colonize, on the skin or in the nasal passage, Engel said. Ramsey said between 4 percent and 5 percent of people carry MRSA, but that more research from screening programs like the hospital’s program needs to be done.
When Northside High School students began presenting symptoms of MRSA infection in September, Engel was called in to work with the Beaufort County Health Department and the school system to control the spread of the bacteria. Engel said he was working with Beaufort County Health Director Roxanne Holloman and Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Moss as recently as three weeks ago.