Figures, Lies and MRSA

It is hard to gather definitive information about the incidence of MRSA in Australia. Part of the problem is that national figures are gathered by the Federal Government, based on the input from the various state health departments, hospitals, and medical practitioners. These figures are heavily compromised by the poor quality of the data filtering up the information chain, and the degree of data-massaging done at each level.

For example, the NSW Department of Health is loathe to mention any data containing those dreaded letters, "MRSA". As of today, the earliest press release I can find mentioning MRSA is several years old. A search of the Department’s web site only includes three references (out of nearly 4000) to MRSA, so anyone doing any research would conclude that this is not a big topic. One of those references, which include the protocols hospitals should follow regarding any hospital acquired infections, has been so emasculated by censorship cuts that it is effectively useless.

Hospitals are reluctant to use any of the acronyms that describe any multiple-resistant bacterial strains. The occurrence of such infections is effectively under reported. In my case, "MRSA" was never used. The infection was referred to as simply a "staph infection" (which is hospital-speak for MRSA), for which Vancomycin was prescribed. That the MRSA might have been resistant to this antibiotic (therefore the presence of the rarer form termed "VISA" was possible) could only be inferred from the additional prescription of the antibiotic Timetin (luckily, Vancomycin mitigates many of the more harmful effects if Timetin). Therefore, this MRSA infection might go unnoticed by those higher up the information chain.

Medical practitioners are also loathe to report the presence of MRSA in patients presenting themselves for treatment. The best way to do this is simply to report that "nothing could be done for this patient", and not mention MRSA at all (as was done with two MRSA patients I know). Of course, MRSA is most likely accidentally (or deliberately!) described as just another infection or weeping sore, allowing the patient to happily spread the infection throughout the community.

Therefore much of the data referred to in this post has to be inferred from that made available through overseas sources. This data is frightening enough. The fact that our own governments and medical practitioners are hiding the truth from us is absolutely terrifying! The fact that while figures do not lie, but liars can figure, just clouds the issue.

In the UK, the various hospital trusts have reported infection rates of MRSA ranging from a high of 0.7 per 10,000 patient days to as low as 0.05 per 10,000 patient days. To put this is context, the worse-case figure indicates an infection rate about half the annual road death rate. Basically, you make two visits to a hospital one year, and you are just as likely to be infected by MRSA as you are to be killed in a road accident. But this figure is inapplicable to the individual (talk about damned lies and statistics).

The large majority of hospital stays are of short duration. Cases of MRSA-infection would not be noticed. Where an infection is noticed, and the medical practitioner calls for a blood-culture to test for MRSA, five days is needed for a positive result. If the infection is not severe, the patient would be discharged before the result is known, and the blood-culture consigned to the medical waste bag. he worse-case results really represent a rate of one serious infection per patient, per 100 patients kept hospitalised for over three weeks. Extrapolating further, if you stay in hospital for two months or more, you have a better than even chance of contracting MRSA.

These figures hide the fact of how likely you are to be infected if you have multiple hospital visits. My MRSA infection occurred during my third hospital stay in 30 years. Extrapolating from the above figures, double your chances of being infected with MRSA with each doubling of your separate hospital stays. And for each doubling of the length of each stay, quadruple the chances of infection.

No wonder that the health authorities are treating MRSA so cavalierly. They are receiving artificially reduced figures deliberately presented in such a way as to hide the real incidence of MRS. infection. For you, unfortunately, this means you are far more likely to get a diagnosed MRSA infection in your lifetime than be injured in a road accident, and then carry the infection around the community. You are more than 100 times as likely to get an undiagnosed MRSA infection and do the same.

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About alarchdu

This blog is just a stream of consciousness. I was severely crippled in 2007, and these are the thoughts generated as I think on this.
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