MRSA Caused Pneumonia Deaths During 2006-2007 Flu Season in Young, Healthy People

Washington, D.C. — A high number of cases of pneumonia caused by staph infections resulted in death among young, otherwise healthy patients during the 2006-2007 flu season, with more than three-quarters caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  The case series is reported today online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine (“Staphylococcus aureus Community-Acquired Pneumonia During the 2006-07 Influenza Season”).

“Staph-caused pneumonia in the non-hospitalized population is rare to begin with, especially in otherwise healthy, young people, but the amount caused by MRSA was particularly striking,” said lead study author Alexander J. Kallen, MD, of the Centers for Disease Control.  “More than three-quarters (79 percent) of the staph-caused pneumonia patients were infected with MRSA. Many of the MRSA patients were not treated up front for MRSA, which suggests that doctors did not initially suspect this organism in these patients.”

In early 2007, federal and state public health officials began to receive reports from health departments of severe staph-caused pneumonia.  Many appeared to involve MRSA and were fatal.  That is what prompted this study.  Of the 47 staph-caused pneumonia patients for whom researchers had a complete record, 24 died.  Thirteen of the 24 were 18 years old or younger and 44 percent had no known pertinent medical history.  Patients who had had the flu were about twice as likely to die from the staph-caused pneumonia as those who had not. The average time between symptom onset and death was four days.

“The important public health message is twofold: Anyone who wants to decrease their chances of getting the flu and its complications like staph pneumonia should get a flu vaccine, and physicians should be alert to the possibility of MRSA causing severe pneumonia in outpatients and treat it accordingly,” said Kallen.  “We are currently studying the flu season of 2007-08 to better understand MRSA and its contribution to this type of pneumonia in the general, non-institutional population.”

Source: American College of Emergency Physicians