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Staph Infections and Health-Care Associated MRSA

Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacteria that usually does not cause infection or other issues in people who carry it. However, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, can lead to serious health-care problems, especially for people who acquire it in hospitals and health-care facilities. Patients infected with MRSA in health-care settings may be able to recover damages for their injuries and expenses through medical-malpractice lawsuits.

Staph Infections and MRSA

Data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that ordinary Staphylococcus aureus is present on the skin or in the nasal passages of about one in four healthy people. These people are "colonized" with the staph infection, meaning that they carry the bacteria but show no signs of infection. In contrast, less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is colonized with MRSA, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If ordinary staph bacteria enter a healthy person's body, usually only minor skin irritation results. But, when a person becomes infected with MRSA, it can cause significant health complications because it is resistant to many common antibiotics. If the infection spreads, it can be life-threatening.

Staph bacteria are most often transferred through direct skin-to-skin contact. A staph infection may occur when staph bacteria enters an individual's body through an open wound, cut, breathing tube or catheter. Accordingly, MRSA infections occur most often among people in hospitals and other health-care facilities.

When a MRSA infection is acquired in a health-care facility, it is called health-care associated MRSA, or HA-MRSA. The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that 85 percent of all MRSA infections are health-care associated.

Data from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons also reveals that in 2005, there were 368,600 hospital admissions for MRSA. In the same year, 94,000 invasive infections resulted in 18,650 deaths, which is more than the total number of fatalities from hurricane Katrina and AIDS combined.

MRSA Risk Factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, certain risk factors for acquiring health-care associated MRSA include:

  • Being hospitalized
  • Undergoing surgery
  • Having an invasive medical device like IV tubing, a catheter or an artificial hip
  • Having a weakened immune system from cancer treatment or kidney dialysis, for example
  • Residing in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home

MRSA Symptoms

Symptoms of an ordinary staph infection are red, raised, swollen and painful areas of skin that may drain fluids. An infection sometimes looks like a spider bite. However, symptoms of MRSA are much more severe. The NIH states that MRSA infections sometimes enter the bloodstream, heart, lungs, urine, bones or joints, resulting in:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Rash
  • Fatigue

Although it is resistant, health-care associated MRSA may still respond to certain antibiotics. In some cases, a doctor may drain a skin abscess caused by MRSA instead of using antibiotics. Serious MRSA infections are more difficult to treat and may require medicine or fluid administered through an IV, kidney dialysis or supplemental oxygen.

Because they often have surgical or other additional openings in their skin, and because they also frequently have weakened immune systems, patients in hospitals and health-care facilities are more susceptible to MRSA infections. Therefore, doctors, nurses and other health-care workers must consistently follow infection-control procedures to prevent the spread of MRSA bacteria.

MRSA and Medical Malpractice

If a health-care provider fails to use appropriate patient-safety procedures and a patient suffers harm as a result, the health-care provider may be held liable for negligence in a medical-malpractice lawsuit. For example, if a doctor does not properly wash his or her hands before treating a patient and spreads the MRSA bacteria to the patient, causing an invasive infection, the patient may be able to make a claim against the doctor for medical malpractice.

If a judge or jury determines that the doctor's negligence led to the infection, the doctor may be ordered to pay damages to the patient. Possible damages may include monetary compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Past and future lost wages

If you or a loved one has acquired health-care associated MRSA, contact a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney to discuss your legal options.

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